‘So to Speak’ podcast transcript: The new FIRE

June 8, 2022

Note: This is an unedited rush transcript. Please check any quotations against the audio recording.

Nico Perrino: Hey! Welcome back to, “So to Speak,” the free speech podcast where every other week we take an uncensored look at the world of free expression through personal stories and candid conversations. I am, as always, your host Nico Perrino, joined by two of my distinguished colleagues here today. Making her first appearance on the show, Alisha Glennon. Hi, Alisha!

Alisha Glennon: Hi!

Nico Perrino: You’re a little bit nervous?

Alisha Glennon: A little bit. Am I supposed to look this way?

Nico Perrino: No. No, no, no, no, no. You don’t have to look at the camera. She’s a little bit nervous because she didn’t – I didn’t give her – this is my fault – a heads up that we were recording video. Which tells you a little bit about how much Alisha listens to the podcast.

For listeners who don’t know, we set up a new YouTube channel for “So to Speak” so subscribe to that if you are subscribed to FIRE. And then, of course, we have Greg, who is probably the most regular guest on “So to Speak.”

Greg Lukianoff: Hi!

Nico Perrino: President/CEO of the organization. I should say Alisha is COO. Yes, we’ve got the C-Suite in the house today.

So, very exciting news. We’re recording this podcast at the end of May. This podcast is gonna come out on June 6th, which is FIRE’s D-Day, I guess. Right?

Greg Lukianoff: 6/6/2022 is D-Day, yeah.

Nico Perrino: 6/6/2022 is D-Day, which is the day that FIRE announced that we’re taking our work off campus.

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Alisha Glennon: Whoo!

Nico Perrino: Yes. Very exciting. Very exciting stuff. So, hopefully nothing too major happens in between when we’re recording it today and on the 6th.

Greg Lukianoff: Oh, man. Don’t jinx it.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Fingers crossed, knock on wood. Greg!

Greg Lukianoff: Yes?

Nico Perrino: This might come as a surprise to a lot of people who listen to the show, regular supporters of FIRE, that FIRE’s expanding in this way.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: So, you wanna take us through your history at FIRE, and the thinking that led to this moment where you, and the board of directors, decided now is the time to expand off campus?

Greg Lukianoff: Well, this takes me back to 1666. It is funny, because when I think about what led us to this point, you know, when I started at FIRE in 2001, my life-long dream was to do free speech, First Amendment work. I started as FIRE’s legal director in 2001 and almost from the very first day people were asking us, “Oh, we are also needed off-campus, when are you gonna extend it off-campus?”

My answer was, “There’s a value in being more narrowly focused,” but at least not until we actually had sufficient coverage on campus that we could do things like the rankings that we do for schools now, or that we had a proper research department, that we had a student network, for example, that we had outreached alumni.

So, it’s only in the past couple of years where I really felt like we had the issues on campus covered enough that we could start considering doing things like K-through-12, which we actually starting doing a bit ago. Started going research that applies somewhat off-campus which we’ve done only for the past couple of years. And so, we were playing with the idea of announcing that we were gonna go off-campus maybe at our 25th anniversary, which would be in 2024.

But what made us decide we have to do this now, or as soon as possible, was just how bad of a year for free speech 2020 was. We needed a defender out there that wasn’t just talking about the First Amendment, wasn’t just talking about things legalistically, but talking about things from an unapologetic, free-speech culture argument – that, essentially, free-speech culture is something that created the law in the first place. So, it was a gradual process but I think at FIRE there was a sense that we all, kind of individually and collectively, felt called to the idea of expanding off campus at some point. We’re proud to announce it today.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, a lot of our public education campaigns, bolstering the value of free speech, have happened off-campus. For example, our listeners will know, I made, “Mighty Ira” – which is about free speech values – off campus.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: We made, “Can We Take a Joke” – which is about free speech and standup comedy. It anticipated “cancel culture” before that phrase even existed. What did we call it? It was like, “callout culture”?

Greg Lukianoff: We called it, “outrage culture.”

Nico Perrino: Outrage culture.

Greg Lukianoff: It came out in 2015.

Nico Perrino: Way ahead of its time, for sure.

Greg Lukianoff: “Pop Up,” too, ahead of its time, possibly. We added more viewers a little bit later.

Nico Perrino: And then there’s other works like, “Coddling the American Mind,” of course, which gives in to behavioral psychology, and all these other sorts of programs. But you mentioned free speech culture.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: I recall that you, and Ken White, a friend of the organization’s, of course, “Popehat,” debated whether free speech culture is actually a thing.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: I think this was in 2020 in Reason magazine.

Greg Lukianoff: Reason magazine, yeah.

Nico Perrino: And Ken argued that it wasn’t – you argued that it was. And you say our reason for this expansion, that we’re going to be defenders of free speech culture. Can you unpack what it actually means – what free speech culture means?

Greg Lukianoff: Sure. I continue to not understand what Ken’s point is with the, “free speech culture isn’t a thing.” I think mostly he means it gets used disingenuously, and that it gets used by people who are being dishonest, who are being hypocritical. That’s something that angers Ken in a way that I just kind of accept that as part of human nature. There are gonna be people who use the argument freedom of speech for pernicious ends. There are gonna be hypocrites. Most people are hypocrites about something, whether they know it or not.

I’m a little bit more accepting of that fact. I will take people being on our side in a particular case, even if they’re on the wrong side of another one, I’m perfectly happy to work with people – there’s a Frederick Douglas quote: “I’ll work with anybody to do good, but no one to do evil,” which is something I agree with.

So, beside the fact that there are bad people and hypocrites, the idea that there’s no such thing as free speech culture isn’t a coherent idea. Law isn’t handed down by God to us; certainly, the Constitution wasn’t. It took thinking through; it took philosophical underpinnings.

So, my point when it comes to freedom of speech is, one of the things I tried to point out, and I pointed it out in the article, was that cultural values are oftentimes expressed in our idioms. And, popular idioms of a time can show a culture’s value.

When I was growing up, the idea saying, “it’s a free country,” was a cliché. Saying, “walk a mile in a man’s shoes,” most importantly, “to each his own,” or, “to each their own,” “different strokes for different folks.”

All of these kinds of things, they were celebrating the values of pluralism, the fact that not everyone’s gonna agree with you, that you might not always be right. These are all things that underpin a democratic society’s belief in freedom of speech from a cultural level. Those have largely fallen out of favor, at least in the past ten years.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, I don’t hear those idioms anymore.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. And, we’re trying to say that those values actually make sense for a democratic, pluralistic society. The further we get away from them, the worse off we will be.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. I’m glad that that’s gonna be such a big part of the messaging in our expansion that we’re gonna be this cultural champion for freedom of expression because too often when I talk about these issues with people off campus – and sometimes we even have these conversations internally – we fall too much back on the First Amendment. It’s like we defend the speech because it’s protected by the First Amendment. But why does the First Amendment protect it?

Greg Lukianoff: Right.

Nico Perrino: Why is it important that the First Amendment protect the speech? And I think this gets to the values you’re talking about: of pluralism, and talking across lines of difference, learning the truth, understanding our world as it is.

Your lab in the looking glass theory is super important. You don’t see enough of that philosophical, cultural, principled, defense of free speech in America. You don’t see it happening.

For example, with this launch we’re putting $2 million immediately into an advertising campaign called, “Faces of Free Speech.” We’re going to be talking about free speech as a cultural value. You don’t see anyone doing that.

So, our goal with the expansion, in part, is to become that rallying point, that people can rally behind an organization that’s going to be defending these principles in a non-partisan, as you mentioned, “unapologetic” way, Greg.

We’re not gonna apologize, as you talked about, in some of our internal meetings for what you see, and what we all see here at FIRE as a fundamental human right.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Right?

Greg Lukianoff: And good for humanity, period.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. And, again, getting back to your Lab in the Looking Glass theory – which might be worth unpacking a little bit – this idea that it’s important to know the world as it actually is. Especially when there are things that are scary, or disappointing, or frustrating, about the world, right?

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: We shouldn’t hide from it. It’s like Jonathan Rauch said, “it’s the equivalent of breaking the thermometer if you don’t like the temperature.”

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah, to disprove global warning break your thermometers. It is something that I think is underappreciated. Just the idea, I think that partially the kind of people who saw themselves in Plato, or who dominate intellectual circles to a degree, have this idea of the perfect form of objective truth. Which is – to me always been kind of a silly idea to begin with.

But it’s something that a lot of times intellectuals take very, very seriously. But it muddies our discussion of freedom of speech because one of our defenses of freedom of speech is that it’s for producing truth. That gets you into this pointless argument about does objective truth exist? And the argument that there is no such thing as objective truth leads some people on campus to say, “well therefore then free speech doesn’t matter if objective truth can’t be known.”

Again, I think this is a silly argument, but it misses what the truth is of knowing someone’s opinion. That fact is that, yes, your uncle’s assertion that lizard people live under the Denver airport and control the world, is not true. Is it really good to know that your uncle thinks that? Particularly if you’re going to go on a date with him, I guess you should know.

I guess you wouldn’t go on a date with your uncle, but for someone else, you know, that’s valuable for people to know. Even things that patently aren’t true because that’s most of what motivates people are oftentimes very mistaken beliefs. It’s important to know that, if you actually want to understand the world as it is.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. So, Alisha, she’s sort of a secret engine that makes everything work here, at FIRE.

Greg Lukianoff: I want to introduce Alisha. She is our COO. We got her pretty close to right out of undergrad, and very early on Robert Shibley, the Executive Director, and I, we’re like, “Yeah, I think she could kind of run the place!” So, we’ve been very lucky to have her from an early age.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, I’ve been at FIRE for 10 years, and I’ve been here the fewest number of years of the people at this table. Alisha, what year did you start?

Alisha Glennon: ’07.

Nico Perrino: And how many FIRE employees were there when you started?

Alisha Glennon: 12.

Nico Perrino: And, Greg, I’m assuming there was like three or four when you started?

Greg Lukianoff: I think I was employee number six.

Nico Perrino: Employee number six. And right now, Alisha, how many employees do we have?

Alisha Glennon: 85? 80 – low 80’s?

Nico Perrino: Yeah, it’s incredible.

Alisha Glennon: It’s incredible.

Nico Perrino: How much we’ve grown. So, I want to put it to you, Greg mentioned the on-campus work, obviously – which is our bread and butter – we’re going to continue to still do that, right?

Alisha Glennon: Yes. I mean, if anything – and I think this will be a relief to a lot of our supporters, and to the world – if anything our campus work is just gonna grow.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: Because with putting a lot of resources in, building our reputation, building our brand.

Nico Perrino: $10 Million in advertising marketing just this year.

Alisha Glennon: More people are going to know about us which means more students and professors are gonna know about us, which means our work is going to be more well-known and in higher demand. So, when we say we’re expanding, we truly mean we’re expanding off-campus but also our on-campus work.

Nico Perrino: And what would that do to our staff? We’re at 80-whatever right now.

Alisha Glennon: Our staff is expected to grow to be about 125 people. So, for those listening or watching, go to our Jobs page because we have a bunch of jobs on there.

Nico Perrino: As this recording 15, I think.

Alisha Glennon: Fifteen. It’s an amazing place to work. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been here for 15 years.

Nico Perrino: Well, it is! If you look at the employees here at FIRE, and you look at the retention rate for non-profits, it’s typically the turnover is one and a half years or so. So many people here at FIRE.

Alisha Glennon: We can’t get them to leave!

Nico Perrino: Yeah!

Greg Lukianoff: You think it’s the free sundae bar?

Alisha Glennon: I think it’s a lot of things. To be serious, though, one of the reasons – Greg said I came right out of undergrad – to be honest, I wasn’t a big “free speech-er.” It wasn’t something I thought about all the time. I was in a sorority in college, I was having fun, and it wasn’t really top of mind.

But this work – and I think increasingly going forward – is incredibly fulfilling. And I think the people here – my guess is the 80 other people here – are here because it’s fun to know that you’re a part of something big, and important, and meaningful, and challenging, and thought-proving, and all of these things.

I was telling my husband the other day it would be way easier for our life if FIRE wasn’t expanding.

Nico Perrino: Mm-hmm.

Alisha Glennon: But I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Nico Perrino: Yes, I think my wife would agree.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah, mine, too.

Alisha Glennon: Clearly! But I wouldn’t have it any other way. When we ended up calling it all-hands, and then telling most of our staff about what our plans were, what we wanted to do, I was – I wouldn’t say surprised but – I was really – it was heart-warming because the response was overwhelmingly positive. I think there was cheers. And this was when we were all on Zoom at that point.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: So, people are here for the right reasons even if it means having to work really, really, really hard on something because the payoff could be huge. And I think with our plan it’s likely that we’ll succeed.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, and FIRE’s just a unique place to work, given the political diversity that we have here. Especially in our hyper-polarized age. You have people from across the political and ideological spectrum – some who in certain cases I don’t even know what their political ideology is here – but we all come together around this belief in the value of free expression, and free speech culture which makes it just a fantastic place to work.

I know it sounds like an ad for FIRE but it’s sort of an ad for FIRE. We have 15 jobs. It’s a tight labor market. If you care about these issues and you want to work for an organization that believes deeply in them, and with colleagues who are committed to them in the same way you are, then they should come and apply.

Alisha Glennon: Yep, please do.

Greg Lukianoff: That’s one of the reasons we’re doing the soft launch on June 6. We’re becoming this new thing. We’re in the process of becoming this new thing. But in order to become that, we have to attract top talent, we have to find more plaintiffs out there – we don’t actually have to because we already have hundreds of potential candidates for law suits. We are actually kind of shocked at how many lawsuits we found just with minimal sniffing around.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, stay tuned.

Greg Lukianoff: But we know there are a lot of more those because people have never heard of us before. Of course, when it comes to doing something this ambitious, trying to fund raise – and that’s where Alisha started out at FIRE – without telling people about this big project you’re doing can be slightly frustrating.

So, it’s gonna be nice. I’m always much more comfortable when I can openly talk about stuff, so it will be a relief to be able to tell people, “We’re going for this really ambitious goal.”

Nico Perrino: $75 Million over three years.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. “And we need your help getting there.”

Nico Perrino: Yeah, and Alisha, as of this recording – and it’s probably going to change within the next week and a half – we’re at, what? 20?

Alisha Glennon: $27.5 Million of the $75 million overall goal.

Nico Perrino: So, over a third of our three-year goal.

Alisha Glennon: That’s right.

Nico Perrino: And how have we raised that so far?

Alisha Glennon: So far, we’ve been talking to our closest supports and partners – people that we trust to keep things confidential and just going to a small circle of friends and people really aligned, our allies, and asked them if they want to be part of this.

Just through that we’ve been able to raise, like we said, $27.5 million. Going forward, we’re going to ask all of our FIRE supporters to be part of this expansion. But my guess is, they’re going to get us a long way there, but really what’s going to help us get to $75 million is by going public, by starting a membership program, by doing digital acquisition, by getting earned media through our paid media.

Hopefully raising FIRE’s brand awareness to the point where eventually we could become a household name.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. We’ve done a lot of research over the past year. And I should mention because I didn’t mention this at the top, although we probably have to change the intro to the show because it says, “Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.” We’re keeping the branding with the expansion. It’s going to be, “Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.”

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Nico Perrino: It’s going to take me forever.

Alisha Glennon: It’s gonna take forever.

Nico Perrino: Get used to saying that. But the intro to the show says, “– in Education,” so we’re going to have to change that. Aaron, if you’re listening – Aaron is our editor.

Greg Lukianoff: Can the new logo include an emoticon?

Nico Perrino: Might get one. Might try and get one. Include it in the iPhone, here. Aaron Reese, our editor – he edits this podcast, he’s great, he’s our new creative director – has created FIRE iGIFy account where we have all these GIFs that you can send in text messages, and anywhere.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: It gets millions and millions of impressions and views. People use them, which is really awesome. We’ve known about this expansion here, internally at FIRE for a year. The fact that we’ve been able to keep it under wraps is really a testament to not just our staff but also our partners who are helping to support it.

What are some of the things that we’ve had to learn – Alisha, maybe I’ll start with you – over this last year, to feel comfortable that this can work? I should probably – a lot of this is communications work, so I can talk a little bit about everything that went into that. But we’re expanding into three areas. We’ve already talked, or briefly mentioned, litigation.

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Nico Perrino: Communications – lots of that is culture changing enterprises – but also research.

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Nico Perrino: What have we had to figure out in order to feel comfortable doing this?

Alisha Glennon: I think that we all knew that there was a need, that there was a gap.

Nico Perrino: You hear it every day on Twitter. All you have to do is look at Twitter and say, “FIRE is just on campus,” right?

Alisha Glennon: Right. And like Greg said, for years we’ve been hearing from donors, “When are you gonna expand off campus? When are you gonna expand off campus?” So, we knew there was an appetite internally, and with some of our supporters to do it, but what we needed to figure out was, okay, if we’re gonna take this on, how can we do it in a way that’s successful? How can we be really prepared? Where are the areas that we should expand? Where are the areas that maybe we shouldn’t?

So, one of the first things that we did was we started working on a strategic plan, big business plan. We did a lot of market research to figure out – we know there’s a declining culture of free speech, but is there an audience that will listen to our message, and how receptive will they be? Can we move them?

I don’t know if you want to talk more about the focus groups, and the quant there.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, let me talk a little bit about that because Alisha you talked about when you came to FIRE you didn’t think about freedom of speech, it wasn’t really front of mind.

You had this intuitive, gut support for it and I think that’s what a lot of our research over the past year, when we were preparing for some of these advertising marketing campaigns, found as well. Particularly on, and we’ve been focusing to a certain extent, some of the research on left-leaning citizens.

One of the things we found in our market research was that conservatives could be brought in fairly easily and liberals can be too if you reach them with their values. We found that there’s this huge, reachable audience, particularly younger Americans for whom freedom of speech isn’t front of mind but if you reach them with their values and messages that resonate with them, you can bring them along.

I should say those are, “teachables.” Reachables are your 40- to 55-year-olds.

Greg Lukianoff: And all the way up.

Nico Perrino: And all the way up, who are already on board. Teachables tend to be younger. And then there’s millennials – my generation – which we’ve been referring to as In-too-Deepables: their values are fairly set, there are plenty of us that support free speech, I’m one of them.

There are some of them that we can’t find advertising messages or free speech messages that are really gonna resonate with them in the same way they resonate with others. So, we’ve done a lot of market research – not just along political lines, left, right, but also demographic lines.

One of the things we found with minorities is that they just don’t think free speech is for them. But we found that for many of them they understand how important it has been to social justice movements, civil rights movement, gay rights movements, all those movements, over the course of history. If you reach them with the right values that explain the history of free speech in America.

Greg Lukianoff: Okay, to be clear, what we mean by, “free speech isn’t for them,” as if they’re not people who benefit from freedom of speech.

Nico Perrino: Correct.

Greg Lukianoff: Not that they think censorship is swell.

Nico Perrino: Correct.

Greg Lukianoff: And that’s one of the things that I do think is so important in the messaging, is to make it clear that, as I keep on saying, there was an attempt to have a gay rights movement prior to the late 1950s. That was actually the newest one that I learned. There was an attempt to have a civil rights movement going back every decade of the 20th century and further. Same thing with the women’s rights movement.

There were attempts to have all of these things before. One thing changed. In the late 1950s the First Amendment started getting strongly interpreted, and it also encouraged an appreciation of free speech culture, and that’s how you got the gay rights movement, the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movement.

Most Americans don’t know this history, unfortunately. I feel like, in some ways, it’s not being taught because there’s been a multi-decade movement, unfortunately – particularly on campuses – to de-emphasize freedom of speech to the point at which it’s, in some cases, misrepresented to the public.

We want to bring this back to people to explain, “You know how you all believed in freedom of speech seven years ago? It’s still a powerful, good, and innovation for peace, and for prosperity, and for that matter authentic human relations.”

Nico Perrino: Yeah. And that’s a big goal of our advertising marketing messaging campaign, is to reach people with these messages.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: And it’s worked, it’s worked. Astute viewers, and listeners, of this podcast will know that we’ve been running some marketing campaigns, advertising campaigns over the past year. Those were deliberate, in a certain sense. Now you know why – to kind of test the waters and figure out what messages work with which audiences.

We did the back cover New York Times, BYEZ – I think we ran about five or six of them. Effective as a tactic. We saw that on Sundays on which those ads ran our website traffic went up 150 percent versus the Sundays in the year before.

We’ve been testing these messages in an email acquisition campaign. Our email list, that took us 22 years to grow, we’ve grown by 350 percent in just the last eight months or so.

Alisha Glennon: Amazing!

Nico Perrino: It’s amazing, right, just from a tactical perspective. But the research and the focus grouping that we’ve done to understand where peoples’ values are and to reach them with the appropriate free speech message, as a result has worked.

That’s one of the reasons that we’re launching now instead of the 25th anniversary. We feel like we’re getting there, like we’re almost fully primed. On the development side we’ve raised more than was necessary for Year #1 Funding. On the comms side, we know what these messages are. We’ve created a lot of the ads that people are going to start seeing on television today, or billboards across the country. We’ve tested them.

People are asking us every day when FIRE’s expanding. What are we waiting for, right? We should forewarn our listeners that it’s gonna take us a little bit longer to get fully primed. There are still some kinks we have to work out. We’re hiring 15 people because there is a need to hire 15 people in order to do this expansion correctly.

But the hope is, Alisha – and you can talk a little bit about this, I hope – by, what is it? 4/18 of next year?

Alisha Glennon: Yes.

Nico Perrino: We’ll have a gala in New York City where we’ll celebrate – not our coming out party – but we’re hopefully staffed-up.

Alisha Glennon: Yes.

Nico Perrino: To a significant degree and ready to go.

Alisha Glennon: I think I see the 18th as really a big, free speech celebration.

Nico Perrino: A party.

Alisha Glennon: A big party, and bringing together people from all over the country who care about this. Maybe people who’ve been there from 1999, from the beginning. Or, maybe new people, who are hearing about us today for the first time with the expansion.

Anybody who cares about free speech should come. New York City. Greg and I will be there. You’ll be there.

Greg Lukianoff: 4/18/2023.

Alisha Glennon: 4/18/2023. Save the date.

Nico Perrino: Is there a way that people can get in touch if they’re interested in planning a trip for a day?

Alisha Glennon: Yes. Just email events@thefire.org and our events team – and I’m on there, too – will get back to you.

Nico Perrino: Can you tell us a little bit about these – you mentioned “FIRE member” – I know we had a meeting yesterday going through, once we expedited our timeline for the launch, what that actually entails? So, don’t take this to the bank.

Alisha Glennon: Did we tell Greg? We’re gonna have FIRE members. So, FIRE is always – not always, but for the last several years – we’ve always had “Ember Club” members. These are our top donors. These are people who have a lot of capacity and they’ve been incredibly generous with it.

But now that we’re trying to get a million followers, which we can talk about in a little bit, part of that is going to be having a robust, grass roots, small dollar membership program. So, we’ll now have “FIRE Members.” This means anybody who donates $25 or more becomes a FIRE Member. It comes with benefits. For a limited time, we will have very cool t-shirts.

Nico Perrino: We hope there are t-shirts. We’re designing them right now.

Alisha Glennon: Yes.

Nico Perrino: Might take some time to get to peoples’ mailboxes – supply chains, design time.

Alisha Glennon: But they’re gonna be very cool.

Nico Perinno: And comfortable, which is important to Greg.

Alisha Glennon: And comfortable.

Greg Lukianoff: Extremely important. Otherwise, people don’t wear them.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, that’s true.

Alisha Glennon: You’re right, you’re right. And we’ll have a lot of walking billboards, hopefully, for FIRE.

Nico Perrino: And for free speech.

Alisha Glennon: And for free speech. Maybe one will say, “Free speech makes free people.” They seem to like that one.

Nico Perrino: That’s one of our campaign tags, yeah.

Alisha Glennon: And so, the goal is over the next several years to get 40,000 small dollar donors all across the country – a diverse base of donors who care about free speech.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: And, we’ll be kicking it off with the membership program and giving the giveaways for the t-shirts.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. Can we call them the FIRE Pyros?

Nico Perrino: “Light a fire for FIRE.”

Greg Lukianoff: I have this terrible idea.

Nico Perrino: Greg, can you talk a little bit about the research portion of the expansion?

Greg Lukianoff: Yes.

Nico Perrino: Litigation – so, there’s three main things we’re asking people, right? Send us your talent, if you’re looking for a job or you want to do this full-time.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Go to: thefire.org/ – I think it’s jobs

Alisha Glennon: Jobs.

Nico Perrino: Or careers, or something, apply, look at what jobs are available.

Send us your cases. We’re now starting to take cases off campus. Later we can talk generally about what that might mean.

Send us your financial support, subscribe to us on social media –@theFIREorg, or join our membership program by donating $25 and getting a free t-shirt.

Alisha Glennon: $25 or more.

Nico Perrino: Or more!

Greg Lukianoff: Or more.

Nico Perrino: Thank you! Important, right?

Alisha Glennon: You can’t take the development out of the girl.

Nico Perrino: Well, I think our margins are right. Someone just said it’s like $13 per t-shirt. So, you’re really only donating $11 if my math is right.

Alisha Glennon: The “or more” is important.

Nico Perrino: The “or more” is important, yes, of course, the cause.

So, we talked about litigation, the communications campaigns, how we’ve tested that, the Inez Camp for Freedom, Beijing Olympics.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: I think it was really important for us figuring out the playbook moving forward on comms site.

But we haven’t talked yet about research.

Greg Lukianoff: Sure. That’s the thing that I get most excited about. When I first joined FIRE, I was literally the only attorney on staff. That’s something I think some of the younger people of FIRE need to understand. We were founded primarily to be like a communication shop because we thought that litigation was too expensive, it took too long, and so many of these cases on campus are so outrageous that just taking them public would usually win the case. That was absolutely true.

Robert Shibley, our Executive Director, was the second lawyer to join. Over the years we’ve gotten a lot of absolutely amazing free-speech law talent. But I’ve always had an intense interest in psychology, and social science, and I started seeing a lot of intersection between free speech, psychology, constitutional law. It’s amazing how complementary they are but these two fields don’t talk to each other enough.

So, I joke that I used to pretend to be FIRE’s social scientist. I was able to add, at one point, people like Pamela Paresky, was my chief researcher for a couple of years. Eli Feldman, who came over just as my regular assistant, was someone who had a background in psychology while we were working on, “Coddling the American Mind.”

But now we’ve been able to actually expand to have a proper research department including luminaries like Sean Stevens who does amazing work, Komi Frey who does our scholar data base.
The idea there is to be able to produce much deeper content when it comes to a free speech case. When you’re talking about the latest case that’s going on – the case of Joshua Katz.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, from Princeton.

Greg Lukianoff: At Princeton, who, just today, was announced that he was going to be terminated. It’s important to understand that that’s one of 600 attempts to get professors fired going back to 2015. More than half of those just happened since 2020. To be able to say some of this stuff definitively, just with numbers and stats, is really helpful.

But what’s also helpful is this interdisciplinary approach. That’s one of the things we’re also launching with the research department. We plan to do an interdisciplinary journal of freedom of speech so we can bring in things like social, moral, behavioral psychology, and freedom of speech. For that matter, economics.

Whatever approach to make sure that people understand that freedom of speech is a fundamental value, and academic freedom are fundamental values in practically every field, not just law.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. This is super important for me, too, on the communications side. Stories win hearts and minds. But having research to take those individual stories and tell audiences how it fits within a broader framework or a broader trend is super important. That’s one of the things that you guys have been able to do in the research department.

The research department is kind of a newer department at FIRE. Sean Stevens, who came over to us from Heterodox Academy where he used to work in the communications department. Because we’re smaller we didn’t have a department for him but now your team has grown out, led by Adam Goldstein, quite a bit.

Greg Lukianoff: Oh, yeah.

Nico Perrino: But it’s super important to have those facts at hand. When you wrote that Daily Beast article about cancel culture, being able to point to the number of scholars who were sanctioned for their protected expression, was super important. I don’t think there was any significant pushback when you actually put those numbers out there.

People always say, “it’s not real, show us some real data.” I was like, “Okay, we work on campus, so we can show you the data on campus.”

Greg Lukianoff: I love that New York Times guy, “Just show me one.” And I’m like, “I think it’s out of data, like, 600. Is that good?”

Some of the only criticism we got for it were people saying, using the new Michael Bérubé, Jennifer Ruth kind of idea of American freedom.

[Crosstalk] [32:31]

Nico Perrino: They were on the podcast a couple weeks ago.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. More about that later. They argued that essentially one of the professors who was most clearly canceled due to something that he had published, shouldn’t count because, for whatever reason, someone thought that that was – the research wasn’t itself shoddy – just the finding was something that was considered morally troubling.

Basically, people have critiqued it by more or less saying, “But that scholar, I don’t like that scholar.” And it’s like, “Okay, that’s swell. Noted.” But that doesn’t affect academic freedom, at least not yet.

Alisha Glennon: I think the people who listen to the podcast are missing out on Greg’s hands – the motions.

Greg Lukianoff: I was watching you do a Zoom call when I came in and you’re exactly the same way. Yours are more interesting. You’ve got a little bit of mime in you.

Nico Perrino: When we do media trainings here at FIRE, we tell people especially who gesticulate a lot, “You can gesticulate as much as you want, we’ve got fruit flies.”

Greg Lukianoff: I just pulled a mosquito out of the air on my first try.

Alisha Glennon: This is an ad for watching us on YouTube.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah, right?!

Alisha Glennon: One other thing I think we miss sometimes when we talk about research but is really important to me, and I think for the organization, is that we now have a department that can help us measure our own success.

Greg Lukianoff: Oh, right! Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: And so –

Greg Lukianoff: Or failures.

Alisha Glennon: Or failures – hopefully not.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: But if you’re saying, “Okay, we have these goals and we wanna raise FIRE’s brand awareness.” I think right now we did our first – was it a focus group? Or first quant? – it was about 5 percent of the people.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Yeah.

Greg Lukianoff: That sounds pretty good.

Greg Perrino: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: It’s not huge, but it’s not nothin’.

Greg Perrino: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. It was prompted. It was like, “Are you aware of Foundation for Individual Rights?” I think that’s how the question was framed. I’ll have to go back. But there’s unprompted and prompted ways and it was 5 percent.

Alisha Glennon: We’re going to be able to do just quick pulses every few months and see, is that going up? Or even just general questions about how positive or negative you feel about free speech. We’re going to be able to measure if our efforts are making a difference. We can do that internally which is a really awesome tool for FIRE to be able to decide if we need to pivot, or if we need to change, or where we need to expand. Things like that.

Nico Perrino: Yeah – insider look at what we’re doing here at FIRE – a big portion of what we’re doing right now is putting together this dashboard of key performance indicators.

Greg Lukianoff: I’m so excited, “Look! Oh, look a dashboard!”

Nico Perrino: We’ve always tried metrics here at FIRE.

Greg Lukianoff: They make it really easy and that’s one thing not everyone realizes, we try to be super helpful if people are looking for data related to anything related to freedom of speech, we try to do everything we can to help them.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, you’re always reaching out the allies, and partners, journalists and say, “Hey, if you need any data, we’re the free speech people. We put together a lot of this data. Come to us. We can help you find it. We’ve got a team that’s at your disposal.”

If there are any academics or journalists that are listening to this podcast and you’re interested in writing a story about free expression and you’re curious what data is out there, our research team can help with that. The data will become even more expansive now that FIRE itself is expanding off campus.

Greg Lukianoff: It is funny. Just like the same way when you start doing First Amendment law you realize that the universe of full-time First Amendment lawyers might be smaller than you think. When it comes to the people who are researching freedom of speech, expression tolerance, it is a smaller universe.

But that’s one of the reasons why it’s useful to get the word out about people who have interesting ideas for studies. Oh! I should have mentioned this. We’re doing research grants now. We’re doing $150,000.00 in research grants about potential projects.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Free Inquiry Grant program. You can learn more about it by going to the FIRE.org/fig – I think.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah, FIG.

Nico Perrino: Is what the short, vanity URL is for. But Greg, I’m so glad you said that because the universe of researchers is small but the universe of First Amendment litigators is also small.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: That’s another big reason that we’re doing this expansion. We want to build a bench of free speech litigators.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: There’s not a lot of places you can go if you want to do First Amendment Law. The plaintiffs in these cases don’t tend to have a lot of money.

Greg Lukianoff: I was lucky enough to be poor growing up, so when I was offered the job – I went to Stanford for law school, got an offer at a New York firm that would have paid a lot – but when I was offered $50,000.00 a year to work at FIRE, that sounded like a million dollars to me. I was like, “Yay! That’s great!”

But I have to be a special kind of reckless to focus entirely on First Amendment law in law school and only settled for a job in this field because there were so few jobs in this field. I think we can really change the atmosphere for future First Amendment defenders by letting them know that hopefully going forward for years to come there’s a place where hundreds of free speech attorneys can work someday.

Knowing that there’s a position for them out there might encourage more people to go into it in the first place.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, I think it’s probably safe to say that once we’re fully primed for this expansion – might even be the case right now – there will be more First Amendment attorneys working exclusively on First Amendment issues at FIRE than perhaps anywhere else.

Greg Lukianoff: I think that’s pretty safe to say.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. So, building that bench of experience is going to be super important for obviously protecting peoples’ rights.

Alisha Glennon: We also have, as part of the staffing plan, we have fellowships and clerkships where every year we get new talent that we can train with hopefully the best First Amendment litigators, and lawyers there are, here at FIRE, so they can go out – even if they’re not doing full-time First Amendment law, they’ll still be trained by us, and live their lives, and practice law with us in mind.

So, I think that’s also important, too. It’s not just the full-time lawyers here.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: It’s also the training programs that we have, and the clerkships, and the fellowships, and this rotating door of constantly training up good talent and sending them out there.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Sometimes actually it’s more valuable to have talent like that outside FIRE in various spheres. People who advocate for free speech values, for example, in standup comedy, or the behavioral sciences, or any of those, because not everyone’s as nerdy and nichey on free speech issues as we are. But they might really care about standup comedy, or they might really care about behavioral science, or they might really care about music.

So, having someone who’s involved in those spaces on a day-to-day basis advocating for those values is super important. You mentioned Eli, now he’s out there in a graduate program. Stanford?

Not doing free speech work every day, but he at least brings those values that he learned here at FIRE with him.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. Eli’s getting his PhD in clinical psychology out of Stanford. He’s from Menlo Park.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, another smart guy.

Alisha Glennon: Palo Alto.

Greg Lukianoff: Palo Alto, all right, yeah. Eli’s the best.

Alisha Glennon: Even if it’s not just like the actual content that these interns, fellowships, and clerks are learning, it’s also the experience working someplace for a year, like you said earlier, with people who think totally different than you, believe different things that you, come from all different walks of life, and happen – for the most part – to get along, and work productively.

That experience alone, I think, is important to then send them out to live their lives having that in their back pocket. Knowing it’s possible – not just talking the talk, but we’re walking the walk in our daily lives with each other here.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. I think one question that a lot of our listeners are going to ask about this expansion is, “What about the ACLU?” When you think about free expression in the United States – I made a documentary about Ira Glasser, the former Executive Director of the ACLU – you often think about the ACLU.

So, they’re like, “doesn’t the ACLU do a lot of this work?” They do. We partner with them on campus all the time – amicus briefs, and whatnot. Now we’ll be partnering with them off campus. The important thing to keep in perspective they have 19 different issue areas.

The difference between FIRE – and they often focus on the Court of Law – the difference with us, is we have one issue area. We can put all of our attention and energy there.

If you go to the ACLU social media channels right now, the big issues – and I think they’re accurately identified for them, because they’re within their issue areas – are abortion rights, and transgender rights.

Greg Lukianoff: Right.

Nico Perrino: So, trying to compete for space on their social media channels is difficult when those issues are headline news covered on cable television every day.

We’re just focused on free speech issues. We’ll be looking forward to partnering with them where we can.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah, we’ve done litigation with the ACLU over the years many times. Nadine Strossen is a great friend of FIRE and she’s still a big supporter of ACLU, as well.

I’ve been doing a series of frequently asked questions about freedom of speech with her. We’re now on issue, like, 18. We’ve attracted a lot of people who are either former ACLU.

Nico Perrino: Joe Cohn, our Legislative and Policy Director.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. I still have friends from the State affiliate, for example. We’re happy to work with anybody who’s willing to work with us.

Nico Perrino: Yeah! And there are a lot of organizations that work on free speech issues. I think what we see that distinguishes us is that we litigate. A lot of these organizations don’t litigate. Also, we have a very distinct way about thinking of the culture of freedom of expression in a way that you don’t hear about.

Greg Lukianoff: Well, one thing that I think definitely makes us different, something I’m very committed to doing, is that we are actually a place in which the office has people who vote for different mainstream candidates in elections.

When I worked at the ACLU of Northern California, when I was an intern there back in 1999, you either voted Democrat or Green Party. Starting at a place – coming from San Francisco, a lefty, atheist – when I started at FIRE, we were pretty much split down the middle between relatively far-lefty people and three religious conservatives.

One was a Catholic and Evangelical Christian. It was an amazing experience for me to realize that I’d been pretty closed-minded myself because I kind of assumed that the Evangelical Christian there would be the most closed-minded person when she was absolutely the most curious about how everybody came to their beliefs.

We could go out and drink, and dance, and hang out, smoke cigarettes – because that’s what we did back then, nobody does that anymore – and talk about the existence of God. Having a group of people who come from genuinely different political points of view, which we really try to mirror to this day, being friends with each other, and learning from each other, was one of the things that I think makes FIRE unique, period.

Nico Perrino: I remember when I was an intern in 2010, we were still in the Curtis Center in Philadelphia, it was FIRE’s headquarters. We had this big kitchen table, and Robert Shibley was still working in Philadelphia at the time. We’d just all come in to that kitchen and just debate whatever was in the news that day.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: I think about that today – and we still do that at FIRE – but I think about that today outside of FIRE, it’s so hard to talk with people across lines of difference. But at FIRE it’s a value that we sort of expect from employees internally, the idea that to disagree with someone does not make that other person evil.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: We have this presumption of good will that just because someone disagrees with me doesn’t mean I need to write them off. And that debate and argument can actually change peoples’ minds and that it’s worth having as a result. Or it’s worth having even just to understand the other side’s perspective, and where they come from.

So, it’s crucial values. And if that sounds exciting to you, go to thefire.org/jobs!

Greg Lukianoff: Also, if you have any ideas for who we could invite for our 4/18/2022 mega speaker.

Nico Perrino: Yes.

Greg Lukianoff: I’m definitely open to ideas.

Nico Perrino: We need a big name.

Alisha Glennon: I was just gonna say that – I would even go so far to say it’s hard to be a principled, free speech group if you don’t have political diversity on staff. We all have blind spots. We hold each other accountable. We point out things from different perspectives. We ultimately end up getting to a better answer because of that type of conversation.

Just to go back to ACLU for one minute, I think it was you, Greg – it may have been Robert – from the very beginning it was made clear FIRE doesn’t have to “throat clear” before we defend speech. We don’t need to say, “Well, that speech might be horrible, but we’re going to defend it anyway.”

Nico Perrino: Yeah.

Alisha Glennon: We don’t make comments on the nature of the speech we defend, and I think that has really served us well as the years went by, and it’s made it easier for me and for everyone to see that the power of free speech from good. That is the underlying principle. That is what we are fighting for – the speech. People say FIRE doesn’t choose our cases because we’re not the ones choosing to censor. People go, “Do you take more cases on this side, or this side?” It’s like, “Well, what way are the winds blowing?”

Nico Perrino: The wind’s blowing. Yeah, right?

Alisha Glennon: We’re not the ones censoring.

Greg Lukianoff: “Who’s in charge locally?” I love those, yeah.

Alisha Glennon: We just do the defense work, we’re not the ones censoring the speech. I think that’s a difference.

Nico Perrino: It is a difference with the ACLU. Nadine Strossen, former president, great friend of FIRE, on our advisory council, she’s come on this podcast before and we’ve had it out kind of over that.

It’s like, do you comment on the content of the speech you’re defending? Do you take a position on it? She said at the ACLU they did and they do because they have to. They have 19 different issue areas. If the speaker is saying something about abortion, or trans rights, or any number of issues that they defend, racial justice: they condemn the speaker.

FIRE, because we don’t have all those tensions, we just determine for ourselves in the litigation sphere, is it protected by the First Amendment? If so, we defend it.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. And partially the reason why we decided you have to avoid that is because as soon as you do it once, you’re going to be asked to do it over, and over again, and then you’re in the position of defending the content of the speech rather than the right of free speech.

We’re not here to defend – the idea that everybody is equally right is a nonsensical idea. But as soon as you actually start saying, “Well, this person is despicable; we defend them, nonetheless,” you’re going to be asked to do that over and over again.

Nico Perrino: If you don’t do it, their question is going to be, “Why didn’t you do it? Do you agree with it?”

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Right?

Greg Lukianoff: Which is why we think that it’s better to just avoid that. You don’t want to confuse your own position with the opinions of those you defend because they’re not the same thing.

Alisha Glennon: We also want everyone to know that they can come for us, that FIRE is for them. So, I think if you do too much of that, “Well this speech is terrible,” and, “this speech is terrible,” it makes it harder for you to look welcoming.

Nico Perrino: 100 percent. It’s very common today that you see that. Just regular American citizens will say, “I hate this speaker,” or, “I hate this speech,” or, “this speech is wrong,” and then there’s always the “but” – but this speech is protected by the First Amendment.
And then that gets back to the, “Why is it protected by the First Amendment?” “Why do we defend these speakers?”

Greg Lukianoff: That’s something that has changed, that we saw coming, that I called the “slow motion train wreck,” even in the 90s. Essentially as free speech went from being the defining liberal value to something that was more problematized on campus that eventually you were gonna go from the very typical kind of hypocrisy you see regarding free speech as people will say they believe in free speech but they don’t like what that person over there said but they still believe in the principle of freedom of speech to an outright abandonment of the term free speech to begin with.

I’ve watched people argue that even the word “free speech” to some –

[Crosstalk] [48:24]

Nico Perrino: Free Speech – you see that on social media?

Greg Lukianoff: That one drives me nuts.

Alisha Glennon: I’m glad I missed that.

Greg Lukianoff: But they’re trying to act as if it’s a tainted term. It’s one of these things where when we talk about being unapologetic for it, it’s like, no. Freedom of speech, if you’re on the side that actually believes freedom of speech itself is the problem, then we’re gonna do our best to change your mind on that.

Nico Perrino: And the messages don’t need to be that complex. They can be super simple. Like, freedom of speech is the ability to be who you are, and to speak your mind.

Greg Lukianoff: Be authentic.

Nico Perrino: Be authentic. Be an individual.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. And, right now, I think one of the things that we saw on our polling is that Black, White, Liberal, or Conservative, people hate cancel culture. Or one term for it, they hate – they’re scared for their jobs.

Nico Perrino: People are overly sensitive.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. They want to be able to talk across lines of difference. And then it’s a root that we’re relatively spooked by a smaller number of people. I often call it the 2 percent of the 2 percent on Twitter that looms too large in our lives. I think that there is a hunger and a desire for, “Can I actually say what I think, even if it’s dumb?” again. Or, “Can I even say it because I think it might be brilliant?” I think that there’s a hunger for people being able to be honest with each other, and to be authentic and be who they really are.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Alisha likes to say, “The world is just more fun that way.” Right?

[Crosstalk] [49:52]

Nico Perrino: The idea That we can speak our mind and be who we are. We’re working on a – we’re clipping something from my favorite Christopher Hitchens clip right now. Even if you are skeptical of free speech, and you put yourself in the position of asking yourself, “Who is it out there that you would trust to determine for you what books you can read – for you, what music you can listen to or speeches you can hear?”

Does anyone in the United States believe that there is this perfect angel who should determine for them what speech they can hear? I can’t identify that person. If there is someone in the audience who can, please send them our way. But recognize they’re also mortal, too.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah. Anybody who elects themselves as that person, though, you shouldn’t trust.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, no, no.

Greg Lukianoff: I’ll do it! [Inaudible] [50:36] you shouldn’t.

Nico Perrino: So, running out of time here. I’ve got six meetings today, two right after this. But we should talk about, briefly, in big buckets, the sort of cases we’re looking to litigate.
Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Nico Perrino: Bring us all your free speech, First Amendment cases. Go to thefire.org/alarm or the button at the top of our website for submitting a case.

Our litigation team – some areas that they’re exploring right now that they want to protect are: protecting government employees when the government is investigating or punishing private, off the clock speech, is one area.

Defending against compelled speech, and unconstitutional conditions on speech, protecting the right to protest, and prevent and protect expression from being turned into punishable conduct, preventing the growth of exceptions to the First Amendment – we often hear about hate speech. That’s different than free speech.

[Crosstalk] [51:26]

Greg Lukianoff: That’s job number one, yep. No new exceptions to the First Amendment.

Nico Perrino: No. Limiting the scope of qualified immunity in First Amendment context. Qualified immunity is a hot topic these days often applied to other areas of the law but it’s very important in First Amendment work, as well. And then strengthening clarifying protections from First Amendment retaliation, are some of the buckets in the trends that we’re looking to litigate.

So, if anyone has a case in one of those buckets, please send them our way. We’d be super interested in it. But again, litigating – we can’t say this enough – is one tactic among many. Greg, you often cite the Learned Hand quote.

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Nico Perrino: When liberty dies in the hears of men, no law can save it.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: So, we also have to fight.

Greg Lukianoff: The Spirit of Liberty speech, 1944, Learned Hand. We actually have a recorded version of it by one of our favorite narrators for our “Free Speech Out Loud.”
That’s another reminder. If you sign up to the podcast, “So to Speak,” you should also sign up for, “Free Speech Out Loud,” where we actually do read aloud supreme court cases, but also certain articles, and we did “The Spirit of Liberty” case.

Nico Perrino: And if you google it, I think our website comes up first.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Because we have the whole thing online.

Greg Lukianoff: One thing that we were a little bit concerned, which I think I already mentioned, but given that there are other places: litigate free speech that maybe there wouldn’t maybe be that many neglected cases out there.

So far, even with just one person looking into it, we’ve already found hundreds. So, we definitely want people to reach out with their cases. But at the same time there’s, unfortunately, no lack of little old ladies who are critical of their local government, for example, who need help.

People engaged in parody, and satire of the local police department oftentimes find themselves getting in serious trouble knowingly in violation of the First Amendment. There are places in the U.S. where they’re still telling school kids that they can make them say the Pledge of Allegiance, which is the Barnette case, 1943.

So, when it comes to new, and innovative, interesting cases that might involve some intersection of social media, and free speech culture, we’re interested in that. But it’s amazing how many run-of-the-mill, “Can I protest here, Mayor?” “No, you can’t because I don’t like your viewpoint,” those cases still happen to a shocking degree.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, you mentioned social media which I think the right place to close out here. It’s a hot topic now with free speech. Identify the buckets of litigation. We’re talking, for litigation purposes, primarily about government censorship.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Right, Greg? But to the extent that social media companies are implicated in the broader culture, and they send messages about what free speech means in a free society, we’re also going to be commenting on that. Even if we’re not suing any of these private social media companies. Just as you did, Greg, in your open letter to Elon Musk. Right?

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: If you want to talk a little bit about that, because I think it’s a good framework for how we think about a lot of these issues.

Greg Lukianoff: Sure. First thing I want to say is that Alisha Glennon should be doing more public speaking. I like the fact that we’re finally getting her on the podcast. I think that’s awesome.

So, FIRE is not going to join with groups that are saying that social media companies need to be bound by the First Amendment. We’re not going to be suing social media companies in order to get them to comply with the free speech standards so they’re only behind the state.

However, when I wrote that open letter to Elon Musk, it really was for every social media boss and leader out there. Yes, you don’t have to abide by the First Amendment, but the wisdom collected in that hundred years of some of the brightest minds in America thinking about how you have freedom of speech in the real world, it’s a rich source of wisdom about how you actually can make sure that things like threats, and intimidation, and harassment are properly punished but that you’re not chilling the expression of opinion.

That’s something that we’re thinking about ways to get that message out to more people who do social media by being clear with their principles. But if you’re going to call something harassment, use the definition; in case law, if you’re going to call something intimidation or threats, use those definitions that are available there.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, you said there’s a lot of wisdom in the First Amendment. Not just in identifying categories of speech but how you actually address.

Greg Lukianoff: Even the categorical approach, itself – this is a piece that I didn’t finish, that I really wanted to write for ages – which is when I mentioned previously the intersections between free speech and psychology, constitutional law and psychology.

One of the smart things we do in First Amendment law is rather than having an all-purpose balancing test, that’s beside strict scrutiny, but an all-purpose balancing test. We have categories of unprotected speech. Now, why is that smart? Because it works a lot like – it works well with the human psychology – that unless it fits in this box, it can never be punished. It contains normal human bias.
It limits the havoc you can do because we’re always – we’re all very good at figuring out, even if you say you believe in freedom of speech, why I can punish that person over there. And by having a categorical approach, it’s a very wise way to make sure that you protect as much expression of opinion as possible but can still go after patterns of behavior that should, and are, be illegal.

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Listeners will be hearing a lot more from us on these sorts of topics. And, Greg, you’re going to need to get a new shirt! Or, that’s just going to be super retro.

Greg Lukianoff: Oh, no!

Alisha Glennon: It’s gonna be worth a lot on eBay someday.

Greg Lukianoff: Absolutely.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, what are we doing with the swag, Alisha?

Alisha Glennon: I don’t know. Gonna have a big “FIRE.”

Nico Perrino: One thing I forgot to mention is – we talked a lot about free speech – but we’re going to continue to be the same on campus work and we’re going to continue to defend the rights that we defend on campus. The individual rights.

Greg Lukianoff: More of it!

Nico Perrino: Yeah. Religious liberty, due process, these are all still rights that we are going to be defending on campus. Off campus work is limited, correct, to free expression?

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Alisha Glennon: Free speech.

Greg Lukianoff: Yeah.

Nico Perrino: Alisha, what are ways that people can become involved? You mentioned the membership program.

Alisha Glennon: Besides becoming a FIRE member, I think what would be the most critical right now is –

Nico Perrino: Yeah, what would be most helpful?

Alisha Glennon: I think that – this is going to be 6/6/2022 that this is coming out – I think sharing, our PR – if we have articles, op-eds, exclusives, stuff on social media, our videos, just sharing content.

There’s a whole new audience of people now that we can have access to because if someone didn’t really care too much about hire yet, just really wasn’t the thing they’re most interested in, but they like free speech, all of those people now should like and join FIRE.

Our podcast listeners, I think that the best thing you can do is share the message with your friends and family.

Nico Perrino: Go to @thefireorg, facebook.com/thefireorg, follow us on TikTok, Instagram, any of these.

Greg Lukianoff: Your commercials – I’ve been so impressed with how powerful the content has been.

Nico Perrino: Yeah, we’ve got the “Faces of Free Speech” campaign. It’ll be airing on news channels across the country for the next four weeks. I think we’ve got five or six spots. I think we’re going live with maybe three or four of them initially. People will see more of them over time. But they’ll be posted on social media. So, hit the re-tweet button.

Greg Lukianoff: Selectivism!

Nico Perrino: Selectivism! I mean, there is value in that. Creating a megaphone and having people understand that there is a constituency for these issues. And that’s part of what this expansion is about.

We’re a group that’s gonna rally the constituency that we know exists. You ask Americans what’s the freedom they most value, eight or nine out of ten times they’ll say freedom of speech first.

Greg Lukianoff: Mm-hmm.

Nico Perrino: So, they value this. But they need an organization, a group of individuals, that they can join with in order to amplify the message and say, “No, we stand for this.” Let’s not let the 5 percent of noisy people out there that are seeking to censor control the narrative.

So, you’re going to be seeing a lot more FIRE content on all of our channels. Standing behind the camera right now is our content creator-in-chief, Tyler MacQueen. Tyler, thanks for recording this today. We’re in our D.C. office.

And, Greg and Alisha, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. This was fun. Alisha, hopefully not too scary.

Alisha Glennon: I’ll be back.

Nico Perrino: Again, I didn’t tell her it was coming. But you’re a good trouper, nonetheless.

This podcast is hosted and produced by me, Nico Perrino, and edited by Aaron Reese, and recorded, as I mentioned, by Tyler MacQueen. Thanks, Tyler.

To learn more about, “So to Speak,” you can follow us on Twitter at Twitter.com/freespeechtalk, or on Instagram our handle is freespeechtalk. You can like us on Facebook at facebook.com/sotospeakpodcast. We take email feedback at sotospeak@thefire.org.

If you enjoyed this episode, enjoyed hearing from my colleagues, please like, and leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts – Apple podcasts, google play – to help us attract new listeners to the show.

And, until next time, thank you all again for listening.