Mary Anne Franks on The Free Speech Industry: How the Internet Commodifies Freedom

February 3, 2022

Thursday, February 3 at 3:30pm

Freedom Forum Conference Center, Carroll Hall

From the earliest days of the commercial Internet, techno-libertarians asserted that cyberspace was the true home of free speech, an assertion inevitably wrapped in antiregulatory sentiment. Tech companies invoked laissez-faire First Amendment principles to justify their failure to address extremism and abuse, elevating passivity into a virtue. Tech companies appeared to provide “free speech” in a dual sense: free from censorship and free from cost. But there is nothing free about what the tech industry offers. Multi-billion-dollar corporations extract labor and data from individuals for marketing, advertising, and surveillance purposes. Online speech is filtered, arranged, promoted, altered, and labeled in accordance with elitist interests. The relentless pursuit of “engagement” places a premium on harassment, sexual exploitation, dangerous disinformation, and other extreme content that chills rather than promotes the expressive freedom of vulnerable groups.

Dr. Mary Anne Franks, Professor of Law and Michael R. Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair at the University of Miami, is an internationally recognized expert on the intersection of civil rights and technology. She serves as the President and Legislative & Tech Policy Director of the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating online abuse and discrimination, and is the author of the award-winning book, The Cult of the Constitution: Our Deadly Devotion to Guns and Free Speech (2019).

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