On 19th January a research project which invites people to debate global free speech in the internet age was launched in Oxford.

The launch featured Oxford Professor of European Studies Timothy Garton Ashton in conversation with Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales. The talk was streamed just a day after the Wikipedia Blackout, a protest against internet anti-piracy laws proposed within the US Congress.

Free Speech Debate aims to encourage people to discuss the opportunities and limits of free expression. On the website ten draft principles are listed concerning global free expression. Added to these are explanations, expert analyses and case studies, with the information being translated into 13 different languages in the hope of stimulating a trans-cultural debate.

A team of more than thirty graduates and researchers at Oxford University are involved in the project, which has received the backing of notable figures including Indian writer Arundhati Roy and Iranian activist Mohsen Kadivar. Both have interviews and commentaries included on the site.

Professor Garton Ash commented, ‘Freespeechdebate.com is a website for the discussion of free speech in the age of mass migration and the internet. From yesterday’s Wikipedia protest to the role of social media in the Arab Spring, every day brings a free speech controversy to the headlines. Our project aims to contribute structure, depth and detail to this global debate, as well as openness to the views of netizens from different cultures and perspectives.’

Ash emphasised that when all 13 languages are in action, the information will linguistically be accessible to 80% of the two billion people online. This would allow people speaking in different tongues in different parts of the world to engage with each other through the internet in a ‘spirit of robust civility.’

The talk will be online later this week and will be digitally archived by the Bodleian Libraries.

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