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HON 4960 Lifehacking the Literature: Suppression/Control of Information


What is censorship and does it differ from just restricting access to information?

What are legitimate grounds for restricting access to information?  Is it ever justified?

What about activities such as:  refusing to publish/disseminate, removing incentives to speak, or libraries not buying a particular item?

Required Readings

Ethics Case Study

Read over your assigned ethics case study prior to the in-class discussion on research ethics. In class, you and your partner will have 5-10 minutes to discuss the ethical issues at stake and decide on an ethical course of action. The group will present then a summary of its finding to the class at large in 4 minutes. This is a graded assignment, and full participation of all group members in the process is expected.

Other Readings & Diversions

The Internet in Society (11 min.)

Discussion Questions 2020

Free speech

Lepore's The New Yorker article on "Flip-Flopping of Free Speech" broached the topic of kneeling during the national anthem. In high school, myself, as well as a few select others in my classes, would remain seated during the pledge of allegiance. Some of the teachers would scold us for this, but others wouldn't take any issue with it. However, we were never reprimanded formerly with any punishments nor sent to the principal's office for it. Does the context of me being a student who is a minor in a classroom change how free speech would be applied as opposed to NFL stars kneeling during the national anthem on national TV? What about the student-athletes at my high school who would kneel during the national anthem during sporting events held at our school?

If the first amendment suddenly did not exist, how would your major / field of study be affected?

The articles have their basis in history up to contemporary times, but what about the future? In what ways might free speech be challenged in the future, especially with the ever changing landscape of media?

-How is free speech defined and should free speech should be restricted? For example, should certain materials and resources be restricted based on their origin or background? 

At what point or situation should free speech be restricted, if at all, and why? 

At what point do we consider speech harmful to others and therefore not protected under free speech? 

Hate Speech

“Does restricting the spread of hate speech actually make it harder for us as a society to fight and end this kind of speech and the ideas they represent?”

Under the Defamation section of the first reading, I found it very interesting that the concrete definition of defamation included the term “falsehood”. I think that this inclusion is very important when also determining what is and is not hate speech. I once heard that “the truth can never be considered hate speech”.   Does this quote make sense to everyone? If true facts and statements about a person or group of people are stated, can this be considered defamation or hate speech?

As we all know, not all free speech is created equal. Looking at our history and major events that have incited the discussion of free speech and the First Amendment would you say that free speech become a form of oppression? Especially when debates, protests, conversations, etc. go against your beliefs, and/or include bigoted, racist, homophobic, and transphobic misogynist speech.

Given the fact that it is extremely easy to make a fake profile or post anonymously on the internet, does this anonymity provide a more open forum for free speech, in that it allows people to express their true feelings without fear of repercussion or stigma? Or does that anonymity pave the way for hate speech since there is less fear of punishment or negative consequences? And if this does incite hate speech, should we allow anonymity on the internet?

Social Media

Do you think that having people monitor what is and isn't allowed on social media sites will impact how future historians/archivists understand our culture? 

"Even when the big platforms themselves suspend or boot someone off their networks for violating 'community standards'... What Twitter has denied him, by kicking him off, is attention." Do you think that when social media platforms suspend an account it actually gives them more attention?

In the first article, discussing exceptions to the First Amendment, “fighting words” are mentioned. Essentially, laws prohibit speech that is expressed with the intent to threaten others. However, the Supreme Court states that profane words used without violence or public disturbance are not definitively “fighting words”.  Looking at social media platforms, where violence and public disturbance are less obvious, do you think “fighting words” are still present? If so, are they prohibited/regulated in an efficient way? If they do not exist on social media, how would you define offensive language/discussion on these platforms?


In response to this quote:  “Shouldn’t libraries be place for all voices in the community? No. Libraries are not neutral microphones placed in a town square open to all comers.”: Is it within the power of libraries to actively control the content that is housed within their shelves, or is it the responsibility of a library to simply be a place to house all written word regardless of content?  If you are of the opinion that they should be able to control the content, where do we draw the line? 

Do prisons ban certain books (like those with racial content) because they hold the view that libraries shouldn't be neutral and if so, what is the danger that prison authority anticipates from allowing inmates to read books like Uncle Tom's Cabin?

Does the restriction of access to knowledge for people in prison create a vested interest in the imprisoning of one's political opponents?