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Who polices speech online? Who is in charge?
"There is an epidemic sweeping the world", the Nigerian Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said. "It is the epidemic of fake news. Mixed with hate speech, it is a disaster waiting to happen."
Some argue that the disaster has already happened. But is the solution as simple as ridding social media of disinformation and hate speech? Who should decide whether content should be removed from platforms, or which users should be kicked off? Should governments set the rules and force the American behemoths - Facebook, YouTube and Twitter - to follow? Or should the companies be permitted to moderate their space as they see fit?
David Kaye, one of the world's leading voices on human rights in the digital age, deals with these issues on a daily basis as the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. Speech Police brings us behind the scenes, from Facebook's "mini-legislative" meetings to the European Commission's closed-door negotiations, and introduces journalists, activists, and content moderators who take down a virtual flood of photos, videos, and text every day. He tells the story of people around the world who are trying to get it right while facing an almost impossible task - with massive consequences for users and the public.
Creative Commons cover icons (left to right) all courtesy of The Noun Project: Talk Bubble © diambergerak, ID; Ear Phones © Karen Tyler, GB; Microphone © John Caserta, US; Volume by Krishna; Ear © Scott Lewis, US
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A timely look into thorny problems by a real pro
Rules always map imperfectly onto complex realities. We find this in traffic cop encounters, courtrooms, and all the little judgments of daily life, where principles are weighed against real things that never fit perfectly. This is a major task of the human mind, and gets messy in communities of humans minds and actors. So it is no surprise that the Internet's megaphone and planet-broadcast of expression collide constantly and uneasily with free speech principles. Now, due to the swarming of the major tech giants as conduits of huge everyday volumes of speech traffic, it falls on these private parties as well as public entities to wrestle with this. The results are at best, of course, imperfect and likely to completely satisfy no one. This author has been in the thick of this, and is an articulate guide. I am about to start teaching free speech again as a regular part of my business law classes, and I'm grateful to have this.