Speech Police

Speech Police
The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet

“David Kaye's book is crucial to understanding the tactics, rhetoric and stakes in one of the most consequential free speech debates in human history.”
—Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized, Walkaway and Little Brother

The internet was designed to be a kind of free-speech paradise, but a lot of the material on it turned out to incite violence, spread untruth, and promote hate. Over the years, three American behemoths—Facebook, YouTube and Twitter—became the way most of the world experiences the internet, and therefore the conveyors of much of its disturbing material.

What should be done about this enormous problem? Should the giant social media platforms police the content themselves, as is the norm in the U.S., or should governments and international organizations regulate the internet, as is the call in parts of Europe? How do we keep from helping authoritarian regimes to censor all criticisms of themselves?

David Kaye, who serves as the United Nations’ special rapporteur on free expression, has been at the center of the discussions of these issues for years. He takes us behind the scenes, from Facebook’s “mini-legislative” meetings, to the European Commission’s closed-door negotiations, and introduces us to journalists, activists, and content moderators whose stories bring clarity and urgency to the topic of censorship. Speech Police is the most comprehensive and insightful treatment of the subject thus far, and reminds us of the importance of maintaining the internet’s original commitment to free speech, free of any company’s or government’s absolute control, while finding ways to modulate its worst aspects.

Read Nicholas Lemann’s Letter to the Reader for Speech Police

Speech Police
  • ISBN: 9780999745489
  • Price: $15.99
  • E-book ISBN: 9780999745496
  • On Sale: June 3, 2019
  • Pages: 142


“Kaye brilliantly layers analysis of the politicization of content on platforms and the growth of efforts, mostly in Europe, to regulate these private, mostly American companies. All the while, Kaye makes sure readers are aware of the complexities and how free speech may be embattled if some of these regulations are put into effect at scale.... VERDICT Insightful for readers who have tracked the history of expression on the Internet and who enjoy connecting that history to law and culture.” Library Journal

“We're at a critical juncture, in which the long-overdue techlash is being co-opted to put more power in the hands of Big Tech, in the guise of forcing the tech giants to take on more responsibility. Getting this right will have implications for decades. David Kaye’s book is crucial to understanding the tactics, rhetoric and stakes in one of the most consequential free speech debates in human history.” —Cory Doctorow, author of Radicalized, Walkaway and Little Brother

“An essential contribution to the discussion of free speech and its online enemies.” Kirkus ★ starred review

Speech Police is an essential primer for understanding the —Rebecca MacKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom

“This is an important, timely, and provocative book on a hugely important topic. Everyone interested in free expression and social media should (and will) read it.” —Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor at Harvard Law School

Speech Police doesn't merely surface the key questions surrounding platform governance and content moderation with flair and brevity—it also introduces us to the varied people and institutions asking and answering them.” —Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder, Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University

“In this accessible, urgent volume, Kaye takes us on a whirlwind global tour of social media’s sites of impact, from on-the-ground reports of activists in dangerous political climates to the candid conversations behind the closed doors of corporate boardrooms and the halls of government alike. His access allows us an unprecedented and often unguarded view of the players at all echelons, be they corporate scions, heads of state or rabble-rousing resistance journalists. In all cases, Kaye unveils the competing interests, hidden motivations, factions and forces influencing these platforms and introduces us to the many actors with a stake in their proliferation or restriction. All are given an unvarnished analysis by the individual charged with advancing the principles of human rights for a worldwide constituency.... A must-read for anyone invested in the issues this book touches: in other words, all of us.” —Sarah Roberts, assistant professor of information studies, University of California Los Angeles

“David Kaye has been an outstanding UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, and in this report he pungently distils his findings on one of the most important issues of our time.” —Timothy Garton Ash, author of Free Speech: Ten Principles for a Connected World

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About the author

David Kaye
© Ron Dassa

David Kaye is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. A clinical professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, he began his legal career with the U.S. State Department. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, his writing has appeared in American and international law journals, Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Guardian and other publications.  @davidakaye