The Perilous Public Square: Structural Threats to Free Expression Today

The Perilous Public Square: Structural Threats to Free Expression Today


Publication Date



Americans of all political persuasions fear that “free speech” is under attack. This may seem strange at a time when legal protections for free expression remain strong and overt government censorship minimal. Yet a range of political, economic, social, and technological developments have raised profound challenges for how we manage speech. New threats to political discourse are mounting – from the rise of authoritarian populism and national security secrecy to the decline of print journalism and public trust in experts to the “fake news,” trolling, and increasingly subtle modes of surveillance made possible by digital technologies.

The Perilous Public Square brings together leading thinkers to identify and investigate today’s multifaceted threats to free expression. They go beyond the campus and the courthouse to pinpoint key structural changes in the means of mass communication and forms of global capitalism. Beginning with Tim Wu’s inquiry into whether the First Amendment is obsolete, Matthew Connelly, Jack Goldsmith, Kate Klonick, Frederick Schauer, Olivier Sylvain, and Heather Whitney explore ways to address these dangers and preserve the essential features of a healthy democracy. Their conversations with other leading thinkers, including Danielle Keats Citron, Jelani Cobb, Frank Pasquale, Geoffrey R. Stone, Rebecca Tushnet, and Kirsten Weld, cross the disciplinary boundaries of First Amendment law, internet law, media policy, journalism, legal history, and legal theory, offering fresh perspectives on fortifying the speech system and reinvigorating the public square.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Communication | Constitutional Law | First Amendment | Journalism Studies | Law | Social and Behavioral Sciences




Columbia University Press


New York, NY


"A perfect book for our time, and a true public service. A terrific and impressively diverse collection, exploring multiple threats to freedom of speech."
Cass R. Sunstein, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard University

"This volume is terrific and timely, and essential reading for anyone trying to make sense of how to think about expression, the platform monopolies, threats, and what the public sphere means today. It challenges shibboleths you may not realize you have. The diverse writers directly and eloquently fight each other in these pages, helping clarify both the stakes and the disagreements about not only what to do, but how to do talk about what to do with some of the most maddening and massive threats to democratic life and discussion."
Zephyr Teachout, author of Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money

"The Perilous Public Square provides the type of provocative, outside-the-box thinking we so desperately need right now. This collection brings together a stellar group of legal scholars in a format that includes the challenging of, and elaboration on, the core essays’ principal arguments. The result is a compelling and thought-provoking collection that represents a vital contribution to a number of contemporary communications policy debates."
Philip M. Napoli, author of Social Media and the Public Interest: Media Regulation in the Disinformation Age

"Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once famously said that free speech 'is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.' The meaning and wisdom of that experiment long have been, and continue to be debated. This has never been truer than it is today, as new communications technologies and rapidly shifting political norms call into question old assumptions about speech, information, and their relationships to democratic governance. In this volume, top-notch thinkers from a range of backgrounds and perspectives tackle these vexing questions. The result is timely, engrossing, and deeply informed. A must-read for anyone who cares about the future of free speech and democracy."
Heidi Kitrosser, Robins Kaplan Professor of Law, University of Minnesota


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The Perilous Public Square: Structural Threats to Free Expression Today

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