This month the Knight Institute marks the publication of The Perilous Public Square—an edited volume of essays by noted experts in law, journalism, and technology—with a series of short interviews with four of the authors. Edited by our inaugural Senior Visiting Research Scholar David Pozen of Columbia Law School, the essays were originally published in the fall of 2018 as part of the Institute’s Emerging Threats essay series. Still relevant today, the essays (lightly edited and updated for the book) speak directly to our current moment, even as they address widely varying issues related to free speech, the freedoms of press and assembly, access to information, and technology. In the four audio interviews we’re releasing today, David Pozen and I asked four of the authors to reflect on recent developments related to their pieces.


David talked to Jack Goldsmith about Jack’s essay arguing that the United States’ efforts to promote an internet freedom policy agenda have failed, and also about his related piece, Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal, which Jack wrote with Andrew Keane Woods for The Atlantic earlier this year. The latter piece caused a stir, mainly for its contention that “In the great debate of the past two decades about freedom versus control of the network, China was largely right and the United States was largely wrong.” 


I spoke to Olivier Sylvain about his essay arguing that the immunity provided to tech platforms under Section 230 can enable discriminatory practices. The debate over reforming or ending Section 230’s protections for tech companies has only become more heated since his essay’s publication, with the Trump Administration making several attempts to weaken or change these protections.


David also talked with Matthew Connelly, whose piece looks at how the government’s failures to maintain and update its archives are damaging efforts to hold the government accountable, and compromising historians’ labors to create accurate accounts of how policy and politics are conducted.


And I spoke with Kate Klonick, who wrote about Facebook’s efforts to determine who constitutes a “public figure” on the platform, about how Facebook’s policies have continued to shift as they confront new, difficult questions around their content moderation policies.


Also included in this volume, Tim Wu asks “Is the First Amendment Obsolete?” in an age when there is no shortage of opportunities to speak, but rather a shortage of attention available to speakers. Frederick Schauer revisits the legal concept of a “hostile audience” after the white supremacist attack on Charlottesville in August 2017. His question, “How much interference with or disruption of free speech should be permitted?” remains strikingly relevant as the United States sees multiple waves of protest in the summer of 2020. Heather Whitney queries whether the law should continue to think of tech platforms’ choices to allow or ban certain users from their services as analogous to the editorial choices made by news outlets, and the ramifications of abandoning the editorial analogy for efforts to regulate the tech companies.

A unique feature of this essay collection is that each essay is accompanied by several shorter reflections on the piece from other leading thinkers on the topic. The result is that each chapter highlights not only the primary author’s argument, but also affords a broader view of the debate over a particular issue.

Sincere thanks to David Pozen and Columbia University Press, especially the book’s editor Philip Leventhal, for their work on this book. The Perilous Public Square is available for purchase through the Press website.