Report: 23% of college students support violence to limit free speech, silence speakers they disagree with

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PHILADELPHIA, PA – College students on campuses across the United States are expressing more support for limiting free expression and 23% support the use of violence to silence those who disagree with their beliefs.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit group that supports free speech in institutions of higher education, published its 2021 College Free Speech Rankings on Tuesday. The report examined the free speech climate by gathering opinions from more than 37,000 students of 159 of “Americas largest and more prestigious campuses,” according to FIRE.

Schools were ranked in the report by how students responded to questions assessing their ability to openly discuss topics such as race, gender, and politics, and whether the ability to express their thoughts was controlled or limited by peer pressure.

The report considers the varied dimensions of free expression on campus, from the ability to discuss challenging topics like race, gender dynamics, and geo-political conflicts, to whether students hold back from openly sharing their views.

The schools were then ranked by how favorable the students said the free speech environment was on their campus.

The rankings are designed to help students and parents make enrollment decisions and score the overall speech climate on each campus, according to FIRE.

FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley explained:

“Existing ranking systems don’t look at a core aspect of higher education: the ability to think, discuss, and speak freely.

“Our rankings guide prospective students and their parents toward schools that value free speech and open inquiry. They also help us hold schools accountable and demand they do better.”

The report found that five schools topped the list for creating a supportive environment for free speech (in order):

  1. Claremont McKenna College
  2. University of Chicago
  3. University of New Hampshire
  4. Emory University
  5. Florida State University

The five worst schools for creating a supportive environment for speech (in order):

  1. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  2. Boston College
  3. Louisiana State University
  4. Marquette University
  5. DePauw University

FIRE Senior Research Counsel Adam Goldstein said:

“There are fundamental questions that every student should want answered before committing to a college. The value of higher education comes from developing a fuller understanding of the world by asking questions that challenge the status quo.

“ A college that won’t clearly protect your right to ask those questions is a bad deal, even if it boasts small class sizes or a fancy stadium.”

More shocking than the report’s rankings were the supplemental findings, which indicate students are more prepared to censor free speech and to use violence to accomplish silencing dissent.

More than 80% of students report self-censoring their viewpoints at their colleges at least some of the time, with 21% saying they censor themselves often.

A staggering 66% of students report some level of acceptance for speaker shout-downs (up 4 percentage points from FIRE’s 2020 report) and 23% consider it acceptable for people to use violence to stop certain speech (up 5 percentage points).

Two elite women’s colleges, Wellesley College and Barnard College, top this list, supporting the use of violence at 45% and 43% respectively, according to the report.

Only a third of students say that their college administration makes it either very or extremely clear that they will protect free speech on campus.

Sean Stevens, FIRE senior research fellow for polling and analytics, said the schools’ administrations set free speech standards at schools:

“The research is clear, and our experience working with these schools confirms it: Much of the campus climate for expression is determined by the administration.

“Staking out a leadership position on free speech and open debate resonates with students and has a real effect on a campus’ climate for free expression.”

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas: Social media platforms should be regulated with free speech

April 5, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.- During fall 2020, Justice Clarence Thomas argued that it was time to rein in Section 230 immunity and now he is laying out an argument for why companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google should be regulated as public utilities.

He has argued that these social media platforms may not have a First Amendment right to regulate user commentary on their platforms. On Monday, April 5th, the Supreme court vacated a lower court ruling in finding that President Donald Trump had acted unconstitutionally by blocking people on Twitter.

That specific case, which the justices deemed moot, hinged on the idea that the @realdonaldtrump account was a public forum run by the president of the United States and therefore was constitutionally prohibited from stifling private speech.

In his concurrence, Justice Thomas agreed with the decision, but argued that Twitter’s recent ban of the @realdonaldtrump account suggests that it’s platforms themselves, not the government officials on them, that hold all the power.

In a 12-page opinion, Justice Thomas weighed in on the issue. He wrote:

“Today’s digital platforms provide avenues for historically unprecedented amounts of speech, including speech by government actors. Also unprecedented, however, is the concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties.

We will soon have no choice but to address how our legal doctrines apply to highly concentrated, privately owned information infrastructure such as digital platforms.”

Thomas’s opinion could be seen as an invitation for rules that could force social media platforms to host all customers regardless of their views.

He also stated that Section 230, a shield for internet companies, underscores the role they play as common carriers in contravention of 20 years of legal precedent and other existing rulings as it pertains to businesses’ speech rights.

On Twitter’s decision to block Trump, Justice Thomas said a previous appeals court ruling that Trump’s account was a public forum and had some merit. However, he added that Twitter’s blocking of Trump undermined that conclusion. He wrote:

“Any control Mr. Trump exercised over the account greatly paled in comparison to Twitter’s authority, dictated in its terms of service, to remove the account at any time for any or no reason. Twitter exercised its authority to do exactly that.”

The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering legislation that could strip Section 230 protections that provide a liability shield for technology companies.

In recent years, those protections have come under fire and Thomas’s opinion echoes common conservative complaints about tech platforms censoring their viewpoints.

In his opinion, Thomas wrote:

“…Much like with a communications utility, this concentration gives some digital platforms enormous control over speech.

When a user does not already know exactly where to find something on the internet and users rarely do, Google is the gatekeeper between that user and the speech of others 90% of the time.”

He added:

“It can suppress content by de-indexing or down-listing a search result or by steering users away from certain content by manually altering autocomplete results. Facebook and Twitter can greatly narrow a person’s information flow through similar means.”  

 

 

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