Past Event

What Should be the Limits to Freedom of Expression in Democratic Societies?

May 5, 2022
4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Online event

Brazil and the United States have long revered the ideal of the freedom of citizens to express their opinions freely, without fear of reprisals or vilification. 

At the same time, both of these societies have experienced rising levels of polarization and intolerance.  Freedom of expression has come to embrace the freedom to incite violence, to promote racial animosity, and to shame and to vilify one´s political opponents through spreading malicious falsehoods.

The weaponization of the internet has given such noxious free speech a much greater degree of power to influence others.  In response, some media companies (such as Twitter and Facebook) have responded with their own policies to curb freedom of expression when such expression is deemed to be harmful to the public good, but their actions are not always consistent and verge on censorship. These media companies cannot act with the authority and legitimacy of elected governments.

The purpose of this Webinar is to expand the debate in the areas of freedom of expression, combating censorship, and building practical alternatives that allow and generate greater freedom of speech.  It seeks to respond to the question:  how and when should free societies place limits on freedom of expression without undermining freedom itself?

According to the New York Times, in a new national poll commissioned by Times Opinion and Siena College, only 34% of Americans said they believed that all Americans enjoyed freedom of speech completely. The poll found that 84% of adults said it is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem that some Americans do not speak freely in everyday situations because of fear of retaliation or harsh criticism.

A similar uncertainty about freedom of expression exists in Brazil as well.  The rapid dissemination of hate speech and fake news is driving polarization in Brazil.  A recent decision by a Supreme Court minister in Brazil essentially banned Telegram, a popular messaging service widely used in Brazil, accusing it of spreading right-wing hate speech.

The current political situation – global and local – shows and reinforces how fundamental it is to have the free expression of ideas and to listen, including having the right to think differently from others.

The debate being proposed in our Webinar will be an attempt to understand the ideological distance that characterizes the current Brazilian political scenario by comparing Brazil to similar debates occurring in the United States. 

How to define when plurality goes beyond freedom of expression  and becomes a speech of hatred, racism or violence?

We need to ask ourselves how far freedom of expression goes without losing the right that all citizens need for a civic space that promotes robust, plural and respectful dialogue.

We expect that this Webinar will provide a framework for discussion of the limits to freedom of expression globally which future seminars on the same theme will explore with the detail and concern that is required.


(Webinar with simultaneous translation)