Virtual Talk: What Would Benjamin Franklin Think About Facebook?

As both a publisher and postmaster, Benjamin Franklin frequently had to confront the vexing challenge of squaring the ideals of truth and liberty with the realities of immorality and the threat of harm to private and public interests. While he advocated fiercely for the rights of journalists, Franklin also committed himself to restricting material from his publications that “might countenance Vice, or promote Immorality,” as well as “such things as might do real Injury to any person.” Always, he worried that “an evil magistrate intrusted with power to punish for words would be armed with a weapon the most destructive and terrible.” As we ponder the prospect of greater censorship of social media, Franklin’s experiences and views shed necessary light on our best path forward in tumultuous times.

Amy Werbel, Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom and Professor at the State University of New York-Fashion Institute of Technology, is the author of Lust on Trial: Censorship and the Rise of American Obscenity in the Age of Anthony Comstock (Columbia University Press, 2018).

Watch the full talk and Q&A here: