With progressives decrying “microaggressions” and conservative denouncing “cancel culture,” the battle over free speech rages across modern America. Suzanne Nossel offers eminently sensible suggestions for deescalating tensions so that people of all viewpoints can speak their minds in a civil fashion. This is the rule book America needs to preserve a vibrant democracy in the 21st century.
Should all speech be free? If not, who controls it? This brave, wise, succinct book is a must-read for writers, speakers, teachers, journalists, and, well, anyone who talks.
Nossel, CEO of PEN America, has written a book for anyone who communicates online or in print and wants to retain "free speech" while acknowledging boundaries, maintaining empathy, and respecting the complexity of identities, especially when exploring or discovering how different political and social groups explore the flexibility and mutability of language online. Nossel carefully and thoughtfully outlines principles for speaking, listening, and debating free speech, beginning with a valuable compendium of legal and policy-related considerations. Beyond those fundamental elements, she repeatedly invokes empathy as a necessary component of all aspects of free speech, from what we say to how we respond, along with how to consider the ethics of protest, silencing, and intervention. The book provides clear, actionable steps and examples that range from individual/personal to large-scale and legal, which makes it at once accessible and informational. Each chapter ends with a how-to guide, which, while useful, may seem a little too straightforward for practices as changeable and varied as those she describes (such as misappropriations, contextually inappropriate word choices, and audience-specific nuances). VERDICT An informative work for readers interested in human rights, free speech, censorship, and how they interact. [See Prepub Alert, 10/21/19.]—Emily Bowles, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
The CEO of PEN America suggests how to protect free speech in a digital age.
As Nossel notes in her debut book, Herbert Marcuse argued that “creating a broadly tolerant society demands intolerance of certain ideas, including right-wing ideologies.” With far-right extremism on the rise, his view is making a comeback, writes the author, and she rebuts it in a defense of free speech that alternately hits the mark and wanders far afield from First Amendment issues, dealing instead with cultural insensitivity or noninclusive language. In much of the first half, Nossel serves up unedifying bromides on how to respond to “unintended offenses” such as stereotyping millennials as “snowflakes” or “asking a fellow party guest if she’s pregnant when she isn’t.” The narrative gains traction when the author addresses urgent questions such as how to protect free speech while responding effectively to harmful material like online revenge porn, terrorist recruitment, and deepfake videos. Nossel, who has also served as the COO of Human Rights Watch, shows in chilling detail how tech companies are failing to moderate content appropriately. Google and Facebook, for example, “demote problematic posts, limiting how often they are seen without excising them entirely,” or “shadow ban” them by “suppressing social media users so that, unbeknownst to them, their posts and content cannot be seen by others.” The social media giants must become more transparent, argues Nossel, partly by notifying users promptly if they face sanctions. Throughout the book, the author argues persuasively that “informal self-governance” protects free speech better than corporate or government restrictions, but after reading her accounts of abuses by Silicon Valley behemoths, few readers are likely to disagree with one of her conclusions: “Mandated transparency is one area where government regulation of online content may be a positive step and would not entail intrusions on content in violation of the First Amendment.”
Apt and inapt arguments commingle in a passionate defense of free speech.
"In this essential volume, Suzanne Nossel passionately and convincingly argues for free speech, a liberty that is increasingly under attack throughout the world. Drawing on her experiences at the State Department and at PEN America, the author provides a critically important primer for those who seek to secure freedom of expression in our 'diverse, digitalized, and divided culture.'"
With a clarity of conviction sharpened by years at the State Department and as the head of the leading literary organization on open speech, Suzanne Nossel offers us way to support free speech and also battle bigotry. Given the world's roiling cauldron of modern-day disinformation and old-fashioned xenophobia, Nossel's Dare to Speak provides a new path that is not both-sides-ism but intellectually and emotionally up to the challenges of our times.
At a moment when Americans seem so unalterably divided and so filled with fury about each other that it seems difficult even to imagine public issues and candidates for office being discussed in a manner that both civil and serious, Dare to Speak offers constructive and potentially achievable ways of thinking about the problem and dealing with it. That’s a rare combination of virtues.
In this courageous, inspiring, and pellucid book, Suzanne Nossel unpacks the complicated ambiguities that have accrued around free speech in America. Without ever being reductive, Nossel makes the arguments not only comprehensible, but also thrillingly urgent. Her call to defend our most basic liberty could not come at a more important time; it is a moral outcry against a pernicious injustice that grows ever more prevalent at home and abroad. It is written with wit, but is at its heart an earnest and optimistic call to action.
"Suzanne Nossel has been among our most principled and eloquent front-line defenders of free expression. In her new book, she explores not just the practicalities of speaking freely and effectively in an increasingly illiberal environment, but of listening fairly. It's possible to be angry, offended, and passionate while respecting the expressive rights of others. In Dare to Speak, she explains how."
Exceedingly sane and thus indispensable.”
"A thoughtful, perceptive, and inspiring set of insights to guide the citizens of our democracy as they struggle to understand and to respect the freedom of speech. Dare to Speak makes an essential contribution to our understanding and to our ability to live up to the highest aspirations of our democracy.
In our censorious age of easy outrage, when it’s harder than ever to defend our right to express contentious ideas, Suzanne Nossel remains convinced that bigotry and intolerance can be fought without giving way on the principle of free speech, and makes her case eloquently, and—even better—usefully. An authoritative, essential book.
At a time of declining respect for truth, reason, and decency, Dare to Speak offers a framework for promoting the free exchange of ideas in a way that is civil and inclusive. This extraordinarily clever, expertly crafted book is critical reading for anyone who cares about the quality and vitality of our public discourse.”
An essential citizen guide to free speech. Nossel manages to not only illuminate with great insight the complex issues and moral stakes; she also provides a clear path forward.
This timely book not only provides a compelling analysis of free speech’s essential role in promoting democracy and human rights; it also serves as a practical “how-to” manual for every member of our society, explaining how each of us can secure and advance robust free speech rights for all people and all ideas, including the most marginalized. It is an important guidebook for revitalizing liberty, equality, and democracy.
Suzanne Nossel writes from the front lines of our political and cultural debates with heart and intelligence, with passion and wisdom. Dare to Speak is a vital and urgently needed guide to the numerous threats facing our most cherished rights and a testament to the courage necessary to protecting them.”
To move forward as a country demands that we focus on how to talk and listen across vast differences of opinion, without shutting down others’ speech or closing our ears. Suzanne Nossel offers a much needed, cogent and compelling blueprint for reviving our stalled national conversation by helping all of us to speak, listen, and be heard.
As a prominent defender of outspoken wordsmiths, Suzanne Nossel knows a thing or two about free speech, and she makes a powerful case that freedom of expression is not just compatible but necessary for the advancement of equality and human rights.”