Two days after the storming of the Capitol, following a Trump rally, and with the former president seemingly continuing to glorify the events of January 6, Facebook and Twitter decided to ban him from the social media platforms, in Twitter’s case permanently.
Many welcomed this move, while others cried that this constituted a violation of the former President’s free speech. Some argued that Twitter and Facebook are private companies, and therefore can enforce their terms of service however they see fit. Others argued that given social media platforms are more akin to a public square, rather than someone’s private salon, these companies should not have the right to decide what speech is and isn’t allowed.
So did Twitter and Facebook violate Trump’s free speech, or were their bans justified? Does having moral arguments for banning certain kinds of speech mean those arguments should be reflected in the law, or should what speech is legally allowed stretch beyond the morally acceptable? What type of speech is dangerous, and are there ways of combating it besides taking legal measures against it?
Jeffrey Howard is an Associate Professor of Political Theory at UCL’s Department of Political Science and School of Public Policy. He works on topics in contemporary political and legal philosophy, focusing on freedom of speech, criminal punishment, and democracy. His paper, "Dangerous speech", published in the journal Philosophy and Public Affairs, won him the 2021 Berger Memorial Prize for the best article in philosophy of law, a prize awarded every two years by the American Philosophical Association.
Visit Jeff's personal webpage for a great set of recorded public talks as well as radio appearances, podcasts (including the brilliant Hi Phi Nation) and his Tedx talk on moral disagreement and free speech.
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