Gabriel Moshenska

The use of ‘trigger warnings’ has become a popular attack-line for right-wing critics of liberal academia in the ‘free speech wars’. Trigger warnings are regarded as a form of self-censorship by academics, who are either bullied by or pandering to their intolerant ‘snowflake’ students. In 2016 there was an abortive attempt by right-wing and libertarian commentators to engineer a trigger warning controversy in British academia. The author of this chapter was one of two academics targeted in this campaign, which included a series of hostile articles in forums ranging from the Spectator, Times and Guardian to Breitbart, Spiked and The Tab. The attacks focused on a brief content warning included in the handbook for a graduate-level course on the archaeology of modern warfare. The aim of this chapter is to offer a dispassionate account of the mechanisms of this manufactured scandal. Based on a close reading of twelve of the comment pieces about the course, it examines the subtle art of manufacturing outrage: rhetoric, omission, misrepresentation and fabrication; links with other ‘free speech war’ issues; and the network of individuals and organisations bridging the US and UK branches of this movement (e.g. Furedi père et fils).

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Loyalty and fandom in the free speech culture wars
Penny Andrews

People need to pick between untrammelled ‘free speech’ on one side and a free press and democracy on the other. You can’t have both. We platform fascists in the name of balance and free speech, and then are surprised when they threaten journalists, murder politicians and grow their fanbase all the while. Some find their happy place by following musicians, actors, fictional characters, sportspeople and celebrities, as always. Others find a different kind of well-known, sometimes magnetic and often political figure appealing – party politicians and campaigners. Looking at this phenomenon through the lens of fandom makes it easier to understand why it is so appealing, why the fans are so dedicated and loyal, and why the grifters at the top of parapolitical movements can make so much money from crowdfunding and merchandise. It also rehumanises many of those attracted to the personalities and the campaigns, rather than ideologies. Dismissing huge swathes of people as stupid racists and deluded fascists does not make the problem go away, and keeping the grifters famous makes it worse. Activism in many contexts relies on the same logics as fandom. It is the sense of identity, community and the chance to be around and even heard, recognised and appreciated by interesting people, intellectual or literal crushes, that draws people to put in hours of volunteering, as much as their values. Examples are a political party that feels like your family, an intense grouping around a single-issue campaign, or an event that raises money for charity. For these to be successful, charismatic and capable people are usually somewhere at the centre and people who are well known, even in a niche and local context, are involved.

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Waiving the right to free speech on campus
Marta Santiváñez

No-platform policies and safe spaces continue to stand at the forefront of the arguments made by a segment of the political spectrum in favour of stricter policies of freedom of speech at universities. This debate mischaracterises the challenges that universities are facing, and casts a shadow over the structural struggles that might actually be impending free speech in our institutions. This chapter sets out some of the recent controversies around campus free speech in Britain, and argues that the debate over freedom of speech itself is polarised to the point that there is no possibility in this context for productive discussion.

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Socrates and free speech
Neville Morley

One recurring motif in claims about the illiberal cultures of universities has been the deployment of Socrates to delegitimise attempts at restricting ‘free speech’. To take just the most recent example, within an hour of the news that Jordan Peterson had been denied a visiting fellowship at Cambridge, one of his admirers had tweeted: ‘You have become Athenian jurors to @jordanbpeterson’s Socrates: you should drink the hemlock yourselves’. This image of the Greek philosopher operates in two mutually dependent ways. First, Socrates is the archetypal martyr for secular truth; the comparison heroises figures such as Peterson by equating their loss of a platform to a formal death sentence and equating their critics to the ignorant, irrational Athenian mob. Secondly, Socrates shows us that the only route to understanding lies through confronting of students with ideas that contradict their assumptions and make them feel uncomfortable. Both readings are profoundly anti-democratic, simply assuming the superiority of an enlightened genius over ignorant students who must be directed and discomfited and over the mass of the population. They are unhistorical and ideological, not least because of the lack of direct evidence for the historical Socrates – such interpretations carefully avoid too close an association with Plato, the main source for information about his teacher, not least because The Republic is notoriously tolerant of the idea of censorship. Then, as now, the concern of Socrates’ admirers was to privilege the speech solely of those who supposedly possessed superior understanding – themselves.

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Henry S. Price

This chapter explores how ‘free speech’ appears in contemporary right-wing reactionary movements and spaces, specifically those oriented around masculinity and unwelcomed changes in gender relations more generally. Men Going Their Own Way, Pick-Up Artists and Involuntary Celibates are examples of movements which, in the context of heightened feminist visibility, correlate the supposed suppression of free speech with a culture that increasingly rejects traditional expressions of masculinity. Though these movements are relatively niche, our discussion is tethered to recent developments that highlight the status of free speech in wider society. Chief among them is President Trump’s recent signing of an executive order ostensibly ‘aimed at improving transparency and promoting free speech on college campuses’, due to American values being ‘under siege’ both by student groups and a broader discourse of gendered and racialised grievance. Several popular speakers and magazines have similarly made speaking truth in the face of a suppressive, ‘politically correct’ establishment their raison d’ȇtre. Linking fringe reactionary groups with mainstream political discourse is ‘The Red Pill’ philosophy which, as in the film from which the phrase originates, posits a conflictual world view in which reality itself is hidden from the masses. Via analysis of these movements’ most popular online forums we ask: What is the hidden reality of gender that the Red Pill philosophy promises to bring into light? Are there fractures between and within these groups? What work does debate and controversy over free speech do in (or for) such movements? When these movements are debating ‘free speech’, what is actually at stake?

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Shaun McDaid and Catherine McGlynn

Since 2015, universities have been under a legal duty to have due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism – the Prevent duty. Higher education institutions have responded to the duty by implementing a range of policies and procedures from measures to improve information technology security, to the monitoring of external speakers. The Prevent duty has been implemented at a time when universities have been subjected to robust critique from both the left and right of the political spectrum, with (often unsubstantiated) allegations of ‘no-platforming’ those with whom certain student groups disagree, or providing ‘safe spaces’ where undergraduates can seek refuge from discussing controversial or distressing topics. The Prevent duty has cemented the place of universities as key sites of contestation in the contemporary culture wars. Advocates of the duty claim that it is a necessary and appropriate response to the challenge of radicalisation, while critics claim that it will have a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech in institutions which are constituted to uphold it. This chapter argues that there is little evidence that the duty has led to the feared constraints on freedom of speech, but that it should nevertheless be abolished. This is because the theory underpinning the policy, vulnerability to radicalisation, lacks a solid evidential foundation, risks stigmatising groups that are already under-represented in higher education, and impacts the overall credibility of the UK’s security strategy.

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Aaron Ackerley

The chapter provides a brief overview of how the British press has used ‘free speech’ as a rhetorical weapon to justify its activities. The popular daily press and the ‘tabloid style’ emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, steadily altering the character of high-brow titles as well. This new ‘popular culture’ was largely directed by the press barons and their favoured journalists. Their views combined belief in the market with nationalism/imperialism. The press barons presented themselves as challenging power, supported by instances such as their contestation of state censorship during the First World War. They also gave space to some surprisingly progressive material, with Adrian Bingham having documented content about gender and sexuality that challenged traditionalist views. However, more oppressive trends that have persisted to the present predominated, such as jingoism, the scapegoating of minorities, and the enforcement of conservative moral codes. Meanwhile, sections of the press utilised titillation and softcore pornography, while also prying into people’s private lives. These are combined in the MailOnline’s ‘side-bar of shame’, while journalists’ snooping has veered into illegality. Newspapers have long used the rhetoric of free speech to justify themselves, and as a means of staving off proposed regulation. Recent high-profile issues such as phone hacking and greater condemnation of discriminatory content (aided by social media) has put the press on the defensive. Combined with the enduring conservative character of the British media, many journalists have thus eagerly assumed positions as self-styled guardians of free speech, appropriating terminology from the current wider culture war.

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Helen Pallett

The rise of the internet and social media has been hailed as the ultimate embodiment of the long-promised ‘marketplace of ideas’. Like the notion of the free market, this metaphor has long been a seductive one in Western political philosophy, implying the free exchange of views and information between equals. The metaphor has been applied to diverse domains of public life, from science to the media, arguing that they – and this free exchange of ideas – are fundamental to healthy democracy. Social media platforms have become one such domain, championed for enhancing the marketplace of ideas by extending it to encompass more participants, longer discussions, and far greater exposure to new ideas and information. Yet many of us who use social media platforms on a regular basis do not experience them as anything resembling this idealised marketplace of free expression. This chapter will argue that the metaphor of the marketplace of ideas is unhelpful, as it obscures the multitude of ways in which our speech is not free. This argument highlights the internal contradictions of understandings of democracy and free speech in liberal democracies as well as undermining hyperbolic claims about the democratic potentials of social media platforms.

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How did we get here and why does it matter?

This book asks who gets to exercise free speech and who does not, and examines what happens when powerful voices think they have been silenced. It asks how the spaces and structures of 'speech' – mass media, the lecture theatre, the public event, the political rally and perhaps most frequently the internet – shape this debate. It explores the long histories of this contemporary moment, to think about how acts such as censorship, boycotts and protests around free speech developed historically and how these histories inform the present. The book first explores two opposing sides in this debate: starting with a defence of speech freedoms and examining how speech has been curbed and controlled, and countering this with an examination of the way that free speech has been weaponised and deployed as a bad faith argument by people wishing to commit harm. It then considers two key battlefields in the free speech wars: first, the university campus and secondly, the internet. This book is the first to explore this moment in the free speech wars. It hopes to equip readers to navigate this complex, highly charged topic: rather than taking a side in the debate, it encourages the reader to be suspicious – or at least sceptical – of the way that this topic is being framed and articulated in the media today. The free speech wars should act as context, provocation, stimulation and – hopefully – a route through this conflict.

‘Free speech’ and the rights of trans and non-binary people on university campuses
Grace Lavery

In 2018 the New York Times reported that the Department of Health and Human Services was planning to rewrite Title IX guidelines to define an individual’s sex as ‘the sex listed on a person’s birth certificate’. The purpose, evidently, was to abolish the idea of trans people by executive fiat. Meanwhile, some academics have attempted to frame the practice of deadnaming trans academics and students as a question of ‘academic freedom’. This chapter responds in order to attempt to establish a baseline protocol for scholarly discourse with trans and non-binary students and faculty – both in research and in teaching – and to encourage other faculty to sign on to such a protocol. That protocol is: no, deadnaming and misgendering are not acceptable scholarly practices, and no, they are not covered by the principle of academic freedom.

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