Free Speech and the Power of Attention

Our problem is not with free speech, but instead, we are now deeply concerned about all the issues around access to attention. Whether people know it or will admit to it, the key concern is which ideas deserve to be heard and discussed. Most of the time, control over attention is exerted in such a way to maintain power by keeping better ideas from spreading. Bad ideas can persuade, but the answer to that is meeting those ideas with better alternatives and advancing critical thinking in the public sphere.

The obvious point of contention here is conservatives on college campuses. Those places constitute a forum that will inherently provide access to a certain number of people in the room, if not worldwide by then having the event broadcast on the internet. But granting that space will also get some coverage in the media, accompanied by opinions and various levels of factual reporting on what was said, etc. The ripple effect of culture.

But this gets at the larger point, that all media is a forum that must ask itself questions about its own audience and what to expose them to. And then at root, every person has always had these personal questions to consider about their own communication choices, only now greatly amplified by the internet and social media. What do I say, what ideas will I spread, how will these choices reflect on me?

What we see as new concepts to consider personally, are in truth old, but now new to most of us in our wider possible effect. We have a power and responsibility that was reserved to a very few in the past. There are questions on how to manage these issues well, both in law, code and norms. To not think on and then engage is to let a new set of rules develop, ones that we may come to later regret.