2020-2021 Andrea Mitchell Center Faculty Workshop Series 2020-2021
Free speech has re-emerged in recent years as a significant political rallying cry, as political polarization and shifting cultural sensitivities have worked to intensify the struggles in many democratic countries over the boundaries of acceptable speech. These struggles are far from new, but in the contemporary context emerging media platforms have presented new challenges to the regulation and protection of open expression. In this environment, businesses and civil-society organizations throughout the world contend with issues of political speech and related boycotts, while in the U.S., social and legal developments require us to rethink our interpretations and implementation of the First Amendment. In its 2020-2021 theme year, FREE SPEECH BATTLES, The Andrea Mitchell Center examines both the contentious history of free expression and the ongoing developments that have made it once again a central issue in democratic societies.
THE MISINFORMATION REVOLUTION (AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT)
RAHUL SAGAR New York University
Thu. March 25, 5:00-6:30 pm / Zoom links emailed to attendees
Note: This event is reserved for the University of Pennsylvania community.
Please register with your valid Penn email address.
MISINFORMATION IS AS OLD AS CIVILIZATION ITSELF. History is replete with vivid examples of deception, propaganda, and conspiracy. Indeed, these practices have long been seen, for instance in Plato’s Republic or Machiavelli’s Prince, as necessary and perhaps even legitimate means of control. Political scientist RAHUL SAGAR argues that we are now on the cusp of a new age, however, as the reach and effects of misinformation have been revolutionized by two comparatively recent developments: technology that allows practically anyone to circulate information widely, and liberal values that decry intervention in the “marketplace of ideas”.
With substantial sections of the population believing “alternative facts” about everything from “his birth certificate” and “her emails” to the efficacy of masks and harms of pandemics, we are descending into what Barack Obama has called an “epistemological crisis.” The liberal response to this has been to criticize particular actors as malicious, whether Russia, Fox News, or Donald Trump. There is, however, no reason to expect such criticism to make them stop.
If liberal societies really wish to confront the incipient epistemological crisis, Sagar contends, they will need to enter into the admittedly messy business of vigorously regulating the marketplace of ideas. Fortunately, there may be lessons to be learnt from others’ experiences. Drawing on Singapore’s landmark Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), Sagar considers when and how to regulate online speech, and on what moral basis, while fully recognizing the practical challenges involved in enforcing such regulations.
A RIGHT TO LIE? PRESIDENTS, OTHER LIARS, AND THE FIRST AMENDMENT
Thu. April 15, 5:00-6:30 pm / Constitutional law expert CATHERINE J. ROSS (George Washington University Law School) argues that U.S. presidents can and should be held to a higher standard of truth than other citizens. REGISTER HERE
SILENCE IS VIOLENCE, AND SO IS SPEECH: LANGUAGE AND POWER SINCE THE REAGAN YEARS
Thu. April 1, 5:00-6:30 pm / Political theorist MATT SHAFER (Mitchell Center Postdoctoral Fellow) examines debates over the seemingly contradictory idea that speech and silence can both be "violence." REGISTER HERE
On the latest episode of the Mitchell Center Podcast, former white nationalist DEREK BLACK describes what compelled him to renounce the hateful ideology of his family; while in a past episode, former ACLU president NADINE STROSSEN makes the case against censoring hate speech. Listen to all episodes at mitchellcenter.libsyn.com.
Fara Dabhoiwala Princeton University
Neeti Nair University of Virginia
Genevieve Lakier University of Chicago Law School
Mark Thompson Former CEO, New York Times
Cerri Banks Skidmore College
Jasmine Banks UnKoch My Campus
Howard Gillman University of California, Irvine
Joan Wallach Scott Institute for Advanced Study
ABOUT FREE SPEECH BATTLES
FREE SPEECH BATTLES is a year-long program of events organized at the Andrea Mitchell Center by the FREE SPEECH BATTLES Planning Committee: Sigal Ben Porath, Chair (GSE); Joe Lowry (Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations); Sophia Rosenfeld (History); Amy Sepinwall (Wharton); Tukufu Zuberi (Sociology); Jeffrey Green, Mitchell Center Director (Political Science); and Matthew Roth, Mitchell Center Assistant Director.
THE ANDREA MITCHELL CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF DEMOCRACY at the University of Pennyslvania aims not just to promote, but to understand, democracy. Global in its outlook, multifaceted in its purposes, the Mitchell Center seeks to contribute to the ongoing quest for democratic values, ideas, and institutions throughout the world. In addition to hosting speakers from the fields of academia, journalism, politics, and public policy, the Mitchell Center supports undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral research. It continues the legacy of the Penn Program for Democracy, Citizenship, and Constitutionalism, which fostered interdisciplinary scholarship from 2007 to 2017.