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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.

The past, present and future of Speakers’ Corner
Edward Packard

site has maintained a curious and paradoxical identity. On the one hand, those who speak there are frequently stigmatised as eccentric or mentally ill. For example, George Orwell wrote in 1945 that he had encountered ‘a large variety of plain lunatics’ speaking in the park. As a result, much of what is said there is deemed trivial by mainstream opinion. On the other hand, Speakers’ Corner is a powerful and celebrated symbol of free speech, often used to support perceived notions of British tolerance and democracy. Orwell described it as ‘one of the minor wonders of

in The free speech wars
When it’s about racism
Omar Khan

volume on free speech, and how that value interacts with racial discrimination. In addition to the empirical or consequentialist argument that more ‘coloured’ people would inevitably lead to more conflict, violence, and ultimately the overthrowing of the racial order, there was also a principled argument about freedom. However ugly the consequences, Powell argued, the English principle of freedom entailed the right to discriminate, to treat people differently because of their race. In the post-war story of Britain, Powell’s speech is told as a straightforward

in The free speech wars
Henry S. Price

The ideology that this chapter examines – the Red Pill (TRP) – is often portrayed as a radical and subversive counter-cultural movement. It has been associated with the successful anti-establishment campaign to elect President Trump, with the resurgence of interest in ‘free speech’ and with male rights. And yet TRP maintains an air of mystery. It is rarely featured or discussed in the mainstream media, does not get debated by political parties and is commonly presented as an exclusively online phenomenon. I want to begin by clarifying some facts and dispelling

in The free speech wars
Imen Neffati

–11 January 2015, Charlie Hebdo ’s survivors’ issue published on 14 January 2015, and the question of free speech. The attack represented a transformative moment in the public debate in France and internationally, centred around a re-evaluation of free speech and France’s Republican universalist identity. The initial media response to the Charlie Hebdo attack was framed in terms of an absolutist (though not without inconsistencies) liberal interpretation of free speech perceived as an end in itself: sacred, undivided, uncompromised and based on a problematic binary

in The free speech wars
Andrew Phemister

Impotent fury is never in short supply in the dyspeptic world of social media, but it is rarely more pronounced than when boycotts are condemned for inhibiting ‘free speech’. It is not hard to find such complaints. For anyone committed to a vision of detached individualism, being confronted with their dependence on the social acceptance of others is clearly a disorientating experience. It’s all very well valorising individual rationality and achievement, freed from the unnecessary encumbrances of society, but if you’re made to feel uncomfortable at the theatre

in The free speech wars
Aaron Ackerley

The notion of ‘freedom’ has been central to how much of the British press has presented itself from the nineteenth century until the present day. This has included freedom from government control and interference, and, as a linked concern, the safeguarding of ‘free speech’. However, the manner in which these ideas and terms have been defined and utilised has shifted as the media industry and broader cultural debates and trends have changed. This chapter will provide a brief overview of how the British press has used the concepts of freedom and free speech to

in The free speech wars
Jordan Peterson, the alt-right and neo-fascism
Ben Whitham

with the various ‘incels’ and Islamophobes that constitute the movement. As a key ‘culture warrior’, much of Peterson’s influence is exercised through social media. He has 1.4 million Twitter followers at the time of writing (far more than most of the world’s most eminent living academics). It is on Twitter that Peterson claims and defends his right to ‘free speech’ – a unifying concern of the new far right, from the AfD in Germany and Generation Identity in Italy, to the EDL and the Brexit Party in the UK, and the ‘Proud Boys’ in the USA. It was also on Twitter

in The free speech wars
Shaun McDaid and Catherine McGlynn

This chapter explores the potential impact of UK counter-radicalisation initiatives on free speech in the university classroom and argues for a considerable overhaul of such policies. Since 2015, universities, and other educational institutions and public bodies, have been under a legal duty to have due regard to stop people being drawn into terrorism – known as the Prevent duty. 1 This has required the implementation of a range of policies and procedures, from measures to improve information technology security to the monitoring of external speakers

in The free speech wars
Helen Pallett

which our speech and expression are not free – both online and offline. This chapter will use examples from social media platforms to illustrate how apparently free speech has heavy costs and consequences, is strongly shaped and limited by the broader contexts of actions and actors, and is heavily mediated and controlled through technological and social processes. The influential German philosopher Jürgen Habermas strongly shaped understandings of democratic public talk in the twentieth century through his arguments in favour of deliberative democracy. He describes

in The free speech wars