“The question now is do we believe that completely unregulated speech on the social media platforms and the internet will, the way that it’s structured, really result in a good outcome because good speech can counter bad speech? Do we think that that’s still true? Or do we think that it’s not true? And if not, how far are we prepared to go to remedy that situation? That’s our fundamental problem today.” — Lee C. Bollinger
Q. What do Donald Trump and the Ayatollah Khamenei have in common with Rihanna?
A. They have all been banned from social media.
Social media has become the lifeblood of modern culture. But it has evolved in ways which reward excessive outrage excessively and which encourage hyper attention to the immediate—untethered from traditions, knowledge, and values. One result is rising anger, increasing polarization, and easy manipulation of public opinion and of elections.
Should online speech be regulated? If so, by whom? Is it good public policy to ask Silicon Valley executives to self-police? Whose values should drive decisions about what is allowed and what is banned?
Lee C. Bollinger, President of Columbia University, is widely considered one of America’s leading legal scholars on freedom of speech and has written extensively about the evolution of that fundamental freedom in the digital age. In this week’s New Thinking for a New World, he wrestles with the challenges of social media.
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ABOUT OUR GUEST
Lee C. Bollinger became Columbia University’s 19th president in 2002 and is the longest serving Ivy League president. He is Columbia’s first Seth Low Professor of the University, a member of the Law School faculty, and one of the nation’s foremost First Amendment scholars. Bollinger is the author or co-editor of numerous books on freedom of speech and press, including National Security, Leaks and Freedom of Expression (2021), Regardless of Frontiers: Global Freedom of Expression in a Troubled World (2021), and The Free Speech Century (2018).
President Bollinger is a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board and a co-founder of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, a center devoted to defending speech and press freedoms in the digital age through litigation, scholarship, and public education. In 2014, he established Columbia Global Freedom of Expression, a project that brings together experts and activists with faculty and students to advance understanding of international norms that protect expression and the free flow of information.
In 2017, Bollinger founded Columbia World Projects, an initiative that mobilizes the University’s researchers and scholars to work with governments, organizations, businesses, and communities to tackle global challenges. In 2020 he announced the University’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and in 2021 he launched the Columbia Climate School, the first new school at the University in 25 years.
Bollinger served as president of the University of Michigan from 1996 to 2002 and led the school’s historic litigation in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger, Supreme Court decisions reasserting that diversity is a compelling justification for affirmative action in higher education. A fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, Bollinger is also the recipient of multiple honorary degrees from universities in the United States and abroad.