Cornell Bowers College of Computing and Information Science

Distinguished Speaker Series


Bowers CIS Distinguished Speaker on Free Expression


The Freedom of Expression logo for Cornell University


The free exchange of ideas underpins everything Cornell does as a university — educating new generations of global citizens, pursuing novel research and scholarship, and advancing the public good. “The Indispensable Condition: Freedom of Expression at Cornell” theme year is designed to advance a shared understanding of the significance, history, and challenges of free expression and academic freedom.

To help foster these important discussions, the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science Distinguished Speaker Series is excited to bring to campus a group of speakers to help continue this important discussion.

Learn more about programming and conversations happening across the university on the Freedom of Expression website.


Dr. Kate Starbird

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Dr. Kate Starbird

University of Washington


1:30-2:30 p.m. • Gates Hall – G01

View recording (requires Cornell NetID)

Bio: Dr. Kate Starbird is an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE) and Director of the Emerging Capacities of Mass Participation (emCOMP) Laboratory. She is also adjunct faculty in the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering and the Information School, and a data science fellow at the eScience Institute. Her research examines how people use social media to seek, share, and make sense of information after natural disasters (such as earthquakes and hurricanes) and man-made crisis events (such as acts of terrorism and mass shooting events). More recently, her work has shifted to focus on the spread of disinformation in this context.

Title: Reflections on Disinformation, Democracy, and Free Expression

Abstract: Disinformation has become a hot topic in recent years. Depending upon the audience, the problem of pervasive deception online is viewed as a critical societal challenge, an overblown moral panic, or a smokescreen for censoring conservatives. Drawing upon empirical research of U.S. elections (2016 and 2020), in this talk, I’ll describe how disinformation “works” within online spaces, show how we’re all vulnerable to spreading it, and highlight three (interrelated) reasons for why it’s such a difficult challenge to address. The first, noted by scholars and purveyors of disinformation across history, is that disinformation exploits democratic societies’ commitments to free expression. The second is that online disinformation is participatory, taking shape as collaborations between witting agents and unwitting crowds of sincere believers. And the third is that working to address disinformation is adversarial — i.e. the people who benefit from manipulating information spaces do not want that manipulation addressed. I’ll note how the latter has recently manifested as efforts that redefine “censorship” to include a broad range of activities — from academic research into online mis- and disinformation, to platform moderation, to information literacy programs — that are themselves, speech. I’ll conclude by presenting a range of potential interventions for reducing the impact of harmful disinformation that respect and support free expression while also empowering people and platforms to be more resilient to exploitation.


Jeff Kosseff

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Jeff Kosseff

US Naval Academy


3:30-4:30 p.m. • Gates Hall – G01

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Read Cornell Chronicle story: Like it or not, lies should be protected under First Amendment

Bio: Jeff Kosseff is an associate professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academy’s Cyber Science Department. He is the author of four books and more than 20 academic journal articles. He received a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and a B.A. and M.P.P. from the University of Michigan.

Title: Why the First Amendment Protects Misinformation, and Why It Should Continue to Do So

Abstract: From lies about vaccines to false claims that elections are rigged, misinformation poses serious challenges for the United States. But the First Amendment protects a great deal of speech that could broadly be considered to be misinformation. In this talk, Jeff Kosseff, a cybersecurity law professor at the United States Naval Academy and author of the recent book, Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation, argues that the First Amendment should continue to provide strong protections for false speech. The harms of misinformation, while substantial, pale in comparison to the potential abuse that would come with greater government control over speech. Kosseff argues that non-regulatory solutions, such as media literacy and revitalized local media, are preferable to increased censorship. 


Dr. Mary Anne Franks

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Dr. Mary Anne Franks

George Washington Law


12-1 p.m. • Gates G01

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Read Cornell Chronicle story: Tech companies capitalize on misconceptions of 'free speech'

Bio: Dr. Mary Anne Franks is the Eugene L. and Barbara A. Bernard Professor in Intellectual Property, Technology, and Civil Rights Law at George Washington Law School and the President and Legislative & Tech Policy Director of the nonprofit organization Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. Her areas of expertise include First and Second Amendment law, family law, criminal law, and the intersection of civil rights and technology. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Cult of the Constitution: Our Deadly Devotion to Guns and Free Speech (Stanford Press, 2019) and her second book, Fearless Speech (Bold Type Books) is expected in 2024. In 2013, she drafted the first model criminal statute on nonconsensual distribution of intimate images (NDII, sometimes referred to as “revenge porn”) which has served as the template for multiple state laws and for pending federal legislation. She served as the reporter for the Uniform Law Commission’s 2018 Uniform Civil Remedies for the Unauthorized Disclosure of Intimate Images Act and frequently advises state and federal legislators on various forms of technology-facilitated abuse. Dr. Franks also advises several major technology platforms on privacy, free expression, and safety issues. She holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School as well as a doctorate and a master’s degree from Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. She is an Affiliate Fellow of the Yale Law School Information Society Project and a member of the District of Columbia bar.

Title: Selling Out Free Speech

Abstract: The prevailing American conception of free speech is reductionist, consumerist, and antidemocratic. While the First Amendment in theory is neutral with regard to the content of the speech it protects, in practice it is invoked most visibly and effectively in the service of powerful antidemocratic interests, including misogyny, racism, and religious zealotry. The fetishization of reckless speech is not contained to the United States, but has rapidly taken hold around the world due to the influence of the Internet and related technologies. No industry has benefited more from the convergence of civil libertarianism and economic libertarianism than the tech industry, which sells the promise of free speech to billions of people around the world in order to surveil, exploit, and manipulate them for profit. In the name of free speech, the tech industry has accelerated and incentivized serious abuses— including “revenge porn,” doxxing, and deepfakes— that inflict life-destroying and irreparable harm on vulnerable communities.