Many contemporary political debates come down to the issue of freedom of speech. Who should be allowed to talk about coronavirus and lockdown strategies? Which political figures are allowed to tweet? Who gets to decide what is healthy debate and what is offensive?
The idea of words itself being as violent as actions has led to calls for restrictions on speech. Critics argue that using prejudiced or hateful language can be damaging, and they support governments throughout Europe enacting ‘hate speech’ legislation to curb the dissemination of objectionable ideas. Campaigners in the US are calling for revisions to the First Amendment, and Silicon Valley tech giants seem to be gaining greater power to place limitations on public discourse. For example, talkRADIO was temporarily removed from YouTube earlier this year for allegedly giving false information about coronavirus – despite the fact that many people acknowledged the station was merely questioning government policy and thinking on the virus.
Supporters of free speech argue that it is the bedrock of all our liberties and should be defended with no ifs and no buts. History shows that all progressive political movements from the civil-rights campaigns to the push for women’s equality relied upon the right to speak freely and challenge orthodoxy. If free speech is restricted, they argue, who will be appointed as the gatekeeper of acceptable debate.
It’s not just governments or tech giants cracking down on free speech, either. While censorship has been an issue for decades, the recent emergence of ‘cancel culture’ has encouraged self-censorship as a means of clamping down on what people can and can’t say. Whatever the legal rights or wrongs of limiting speech, many argue that informal means of ostracisation have meant that many don’t feel free to express themselves for fear of losing friends, their job or worse.
In his latest book, Free Speech and Why It Matters, Andrew Doyle looks at the most common concerns of free-speech sceptics and offers a robust defence of this most foundational of principles. Join Andrew and Academy of Ideas associate director Alastair Donald for this book launch of Free Speech and Why It Matters.
co-convenor, Battle of Ideas festival; convenor, Living Freedom; co-director, Future Cities Project
writer and comedian; author, Titania McGrath’s Woke: a guide to social justice and Free Speech and Why It Matters
All of the Academy of Ideas’s online debates, discussions and forums have been free and open to the public throughout lockdown. Any donation – large or small – is greatly appreciated. Click here to support the Academy of Ideas.