Social Media and Free Thought – A philosophical guide for tech developers and entrepreneurs

How can social media help to facilitate freedom of thought and freedom of expression?

Many tech developers and entrepreneurs wrestle with these questions but they don’t need to reinvent the wheel: many philosophers, such as Mill, Marcuse and others, have developed sophisticated ideas on this.

This three-part seminar series will feature three renowned philosophers (Bryan Van Norden, C. Thi Nguyen and Mari Mikkola) and will be hosted by Helen De Cruz, Danforth Chair in the Humanities and Philosophy Professor at Saint Louis University

Recent events surrounding Twitter, Substack and other social media platforms have roused interest in freedom of thought. The tech sector, and social media, has a crucial social role to play in enabling and stimulating the free exchange of ideas. This mini-seminar series is aimed at entrepreneurs and developers in the tech sector who are interested in gaining a deep philosophical understanding of freedom of thought. It is also of interest to journalists and anyone else who wants a better philosophical understanding of the philosophical questions surrounding this issue.

All net proceeds will go to Give Directly, a charity that sends money directly to people living in extreme poverty. Lifting people out of poverty and helping them gain more options and control over their lives is an important facilitator of the free flow of ideas.

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In addition to series tickets, you will get access to our community Discord (with a channel for this series to chat between events)—as well as free salon tickets each month, discounts, free members-only events, and more.

Session 1 will give a basic overview of the philosophy of free speech.
Session 2 will examine how social media and tech in general can either entrench or free us from echo chambers and epistemic bubbles.
Session 3 considers pornography/ sexually explicit content by way of example to think about the distinction between free and restricted speech that is important for considering content moderation.

Oct 10, 2023Session 1 Speaker: Bryan Van Norden (Vassar College)
What is free speech and why does it matter?

This is a general introduction to what free speech is and isn’t, and why it matters. Van Norden will lay out the basic philosophical arguments regarding free speech, with a focus on the views of John Stuart Mill and Herbert Marcuse.

Bryan Van Norden is James Monroe Taylor Chair in Philosophy at Vassar College (USA), and an expert in Chinese philosophy. He has written extensively about free speech in his book Taking Back Philosophy (2017, Columbia University Press), and published an award-winning opinion piece on free speech in the New York Times.
Oct 28, 2023Session 2: Speaker: C Thi Nguyễn (University of Utah)
Going beyond our bubbles: pitfalls and opportunities of social media in allowing freedom of thought

Does social media reinforce thinking in echo chambers and bubbles? Or does it allow us to be confronted with other opinions, including ones we disagree with? How can social media facilitate conversations beyond tribal boundaries? C. Thi Nguyen will examine opportunities and pitfalls of social media in helping us think more freely, and look at the potential dangers of gamifying our social experiences.

C Thi Nguyễn is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Utah (USA), an expert in the philosophy of games and epistemology. He has recently published Games: Art as agency (2020, Oxford University Press), and has written on gamification and polarization in venues such as the LA Times, Boston Review, and New York Times.
Nov 4, 2023Session 3: Speaker: Mari Mikkola (Professor of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam)
Sexual explicit content and free speech

How should social media companies regulate sexually explicit content? Mikkola, an expert on the philosophical issues surrounding pornography looks into the distinction between free and restricted speech regarding pornography that is significant for tackling this vexing question. She shows that a better and more fine-grained notion of free speech can help us disentangle these issues and give new ideas for concrete policies on explicit content.

Mari Mikkola is chair and professor of philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. She has recently published Pornography: A philosophical introduction (2019, Oxford University Press) and has written extensively on the philosophy of pornography, gender and feminist philosophy.

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