Silicon Values: The knotty problem of ‘free speech’ in the virtual world

To Jillian York, the central conundrum of social media is how to address hate speech

The Twitter accounts of former US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Twitter accounts of former US president Donald Trump. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Perhaps no single phrase is as central to how we see the internet – for better or for worse – than “free speech”. Ever since the net left the confines of being primarily a government, research and large corporate communication tool and became a critical part of everyday life, freedom of speech has been a clarion call as well as a deeply contested term in debates over what could or should be posted, read, listened to and viewed online.

This is especially so at this particular Trump-contextualised moment, when this notion so central to democratic norms worldwide is in collision with “cancel culture” and deplatforming on social media. What does freedom of speech mean when the president of the country with this revered right embedded as a core constitutional value can be removed from global platforms at the behest of the private corporations that run them?

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