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Recent critiques of the "marketplace of ideas" theory of free speech have noted inherent shortcomings with this system, namely:

  1. People do not have equal ability to spread their ideas in the marketplace, and certain people are able to amplify their ideas to a much greater extent than others (Paper).
  2. The marketplace can at times promulgate bad or false ideas faster than real information (Study).

Considering that the marketplace of ideas has only been a prominent part of US free speech theory for 100 years or so (Abrams v. United States (1919)), are there modern theories that attempt to rectify the shortcomings of this theory, especially accounting for the rise in digital media?

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  • When you say "theories of free speech", what specifically do you mean? The marketplace of ideas is typically understood to be a utilitarian argument in favor of allowing free speech, not an empirical theory explaining how it works in practice. Are you looking for arguments that justify free speech or explanations of how free speech works?
    – Joe
    May 6 at 22:45
  • For the purpose of this question, I'd summarize the marketplace of ideas concept as: "we theorize / observe that ideas compete as in a free market so that over time the best ideas emerge and spread the most. Based on this core assumption, we argue that free speech should be allowed because bad ideas will be outcompeted and because a diversity of ideas allows for a better solution more of the time." Essentially, an empirical theory as backing for a utilitarian argument.
    – DerekG
    May 7 at 15:06
  • So I'd like an answer that expresses either a different empirical theory accounting for the observations listed in the question, an argument for an alternative realization of free speech, or some combination of the two
    – DerekG
    May 7 at 15:08
  • Fascinating question! I wonder if philosophy.stackexchange.com might have a different take.
    – frеdsbend
    May 7 at 19:48
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Not really an answer, but too long for a comment...

The two examples given do not appear to conflict with familiar conceptions of Marketplaces:

  1. certain people are able to amplify their ideas to a much greater extent than others

    In a familiar marketplace some buyers have more money, and therefore more buying power. Vendors also, with respect to promotional power.

  2. The marketplace can at times promulgate bad or false ideas faster

    In a familiar marketplace there are sometimes vendors who make a fortune off inferior, overpriced, fraudulent, delusional, dangerous, or morally criminal products, the harms of which may persist for generations.

The theory of idea markets doesn't imply or require that markets are always good, only that they work better, (or at least no worse), than societies that outlaw such markets.

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