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

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 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 CGR Director Nicholas Lemann’s Letter to the Reader

Speech Police
  • ISBN: 9780999745489
  • Price: $15.99
  • E-book ISBN: 9780999745496
  • On Sale: June 4, 2019
  • Pages: 142


“An information-packed primer on internet governance.” Freedom House

“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

“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.... 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

“Concise, elegant and necessary.” —Peter Pomerantsev, The American Interest

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

“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 is an essential primer for understanding the toughest global governance problem of our digital age. The future of human rights and democracy depends on whether the exercise of government and private power across globally networked digital platforms can be constrained and held accountable.” —Rebecca MacKinnon, author of Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom

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


Macron, Ardern lead call to eliminate online terrorist content — Politico

“Speech Police” Navigates Social Media Regulation, Free Speech Concerns — KQUED Forum

Robert Wright & David Kaye — Bloggingheads with Robert Wright

Journalism’s problem from hell — Columbia Journalism Review

The Clash Over Regulating Online Speech — Slate

UN investigator David Kaye: Break up Facebook, Google — Talk to Al Jazeera

American social media behemoths have become arrogant institutions of governance — Dallas Morning News

The One Rule of Content Moderation That Every Platform Follows — OneZero

Document of the Week: Facebook Disappoints Authorities—Again — Foreign Policy

A New Constitution for Content Moderation — OneZero

Under the Influence: Korea’s disinformation problem — Columbia Journalism Review

Four Questions About Regulating Online Hate Speech — OneZero

How a Westlake High School grad became U.N. human rights expert — Ventura County Star

Music Masters; Thanks, Alexa; Back to School — Top of Mind with Julie Rose

Restriction of speech online is #Solvable — Solvable

David Kaye on Policing Speech Online — The Lawfare Podcast

Recode Decode: David Kaye — Recode Decode with Kara Swisher

The Call is Coming From Inside the House: On Fighting Disinformation — LitHub

Four Books Exploring the Intersection of Technology, Democracy, and AI — Freedom House

About the author

David Kaye
© Ron Dassa

David Kaye is clinical professor of law and director of the International Justice Clinic at the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression from 2014-2020. His articles have appeared in publications such as The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Slate, and Foreign Affairs. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.  @davidakaye