I spend a lot of time and effort in my law school promoting the free exchange of ideas and making sure unpopular speakers have a platform. I don’t think I’ve ever advocated censorship of anything or anyone.
I was therefore surprised (and, at first, amused) to read Jonathan Turley load me with “call[ing] for Chinese-style internet censorship”, and stating that I was part of a group of “professors, writers and editors” who were “against free speech” and “doing permanent damage not only to free speech but [to our] professions”. In support of this claim, Turley quoted this line from a piece with Andrew Woods in Atlantic in 2020: “China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.” Normally I wouldn’t respond to a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of my work: it happens. But then I found out that Turley had at least 20 times—in posts, editorials and an article stated that “I call for Chinese-style censorship.”
If you read the Atlantic piece, which Turley doesn’t link to, you’ll see that neither the sentence nor the article calls for Chinese-style internet censorship. But when some conservative commentators nevertheless interpreted the article along Turley’s lines in 2020, Woods and I quickly wrote a sequel piece On Law to emphasize that “we do not remotely endorse Chinese-style surveillance and censorship, nor do we say that the United States should adopt China’s practices.” (It seems absurd to have to repeat those words.)
The Atlantic article covered the continued increase in digital harms and private and public regulation of such harms, and predicted that the general trend of increased regulation of such harms, particularly by government, would not soon attenuated. From the 1990s perspective, he argued, China was largely right, and the United States largely wrong, about the existence of such harms and the need to address them, by public or private means, even if in pursuit of very different values and ends in the two systems. (A window into the likelihood of increased government involvement in the issue can be seen in the broad efforts of conservative judges, judges, commentators, And legislators— many of them libertarians — to regulate or approve the regulation of social media platforms via antitrust, Section 230, common vector theories, and the like, to ensure they monitor discourse the “right” way.)
I’m not going to re-question what I said in the Atlantic or on Law– anyone interested can read those pieces to see if Turley has accurately represented my views. But I want to correct the recording related to some of Turley’s statements – somehow related to the Atlantic article – about my actions and beliefs. In addition to not “calling[ing] for Chinese-style internet censorship, “I’m not”against free speech”; I’m not “panic[ked] on freedom of speech erupted” on Elon Musk’s Twitter; I do not have “echoed the call” for the censorship of the European law on digital services; I’m not part of an “alliance of academics, writers and activists calling for everything from censorship to incarceration to blacklisting”; I do not have “through[ed] the Rubicon from freedom of speech to models of censorship”; I’m not “pushing for more censorship and voice controls”; I am confident that the Biden administration was not”drawing” my work in his jaw efforts, which I object to; and I’m not part of “a strong leftist movement to regulate and censor the Internet.”
That said, let me state the obvious: platform talk, as Elon Musk is learning, is a super hard problem. Platforms haven’t done a great job of figuring out the right voice rules, if such a thing even exists. And the federal government is very unlikely to do any better, even assuming it is acting in accordance with the First Amendment. Yet the current arrangement has wreaked havoc on a huge variety of serious social harms, including harms to the culture of American free speech. I haven’t seen a viable solution to this fundamental conundrum, and I don’t have one. Woods and I will have much more to say about these difficult topics in a book we are writing about the ingenuity and failure of America’s 1990s Internet project and the tragic trade-offs digital networks make to basic American values. And there’s more.