Liberalism and Limitations: How should liberals respond to harmful speech?

Presenter: Gehan Gunatilleke, Research Director

In a global milieu of nationalist propaganda and divisive politics, much of what is claimed to be within the rubric of ‘free speech’ harms individuals and groups. In this context, public calls for stricter speech regulation have mounted. Yet these calls have strengthened an agenda of ‘hyper-regulation’; states, media organisations and academic institutions are expected to regulate expression in over-cautious, and arguably repressive ways. The ‘no platform’ movement in universities, and the increased drive towards state regulation of social media signal the trajectory of this discourse.

This seminar examined the fundamental tension between maintaining space for free expression and preventing harm to others. The speaker critiqued the liberal response to this tension, and questioned whether liberals have ceded too much space to the regulatory agenda.