Past Event

The Perilous Public Square: Structural Threats to Free Expression Today

December 14, 2020
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
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12:00 - 1:00 pm EST
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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 Beginning with Tim Wu’s inquiry into whether the First Amendment is obsolete, Matthew Connelly, Jack Goldsmith, Kate Klonick, Frederick Schauer, Olivier Sylvain, and Heather Whitney explore ways to address these dangers and preserve the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.

The essays included in The Perilous Public Square were commissioned by the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University and first published as part of a Knight Institute series that David Pozen edited in his capacity as the Institute’s inaugural Visiting Scholar.


David Pozen

David E. Pozen is Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and served as the inaugural visiting scholar at the Knight First Amendment Institute. He is coeditor of Troubling Transparency: The History and Future of Freedom of Information (Columbia, 2018). In 2019, the American Law Institute awarded Pozen its Early Career Scholars Medal.



Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine, the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School, and a co-host of the Slate Political Gabfest, a popular weekly podcast. She is the author of two national bestsellers: Charged, about the power of prosecutors, and Sticks and Stones, about how to prevent bullying. Before joining the Times Magazine, Emily was a writer and editor for nine years at Slate. She is a graduate of Yale College and Yale Law School.



Matthew Connelly is a professor of history at Columbia and principal investigator of History Lab, a project to use data science to preserve historical accountability in the age of “big data.” He is also co-director of the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy. Matthew received his BA from Columbia and his PhD from Yale. His next book, to be published by Pantheon, is a history of official secrecy in the United States.



Tim Wu is the Julius Silver Professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2011), The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads (2016), and The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (2018). A Silicon Valley veteran, he has also worked in state and federal government. Wu is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times and also has written for Slate, The New Yorker, and The Washington Post. 



İpek Cem Taha is Director of Columbia Global Centers | Istanbul. She is a businesswoman, journalist, and an active board member of leading Turkish and international organizations. İpek is also a Trustee of Robert College of Istanbul and of Işık University. She has also been a board member of the International Advisory Council of Columbia University. İpek holds an MBA from Columbia Graduate School of Business and an MIA from the School of International and Public Affairs.


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