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Professor of Law Mary Anne Franks delivered the 2018 Hibbert R. Roberts Lecture in Public Policy on September 18 at Illinois State University. The title of her talk was “The Cult of Internet.”

Franks pointed out that contemporary society is in thrall to internet worship but the “free” rhetoric of the internet – free speech, free markets, free services – masks the high costs of a corporatized technocracy. The fundamentalist attachment to the internet justifies and perpetuates a system in which privileged groups systematically shift the costs of reckless and destructive conduct to vulnerable groups.

While the internet’s capacity to transform human interaction has revolutionary potential, it has more often worsened existing forms of exploitation. Franks argued that by destabilizing distinctions between speech and conduct, the internet has facilitated new forms of discrimination, misinformation, and extremism. More than 200 students, community members, staff, and faculty attended the event. A lively question and answer session was followed by her presentation.

Franks holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School as well as a doctorate and master’s degree from Oxford University, where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar. Franks was previously a Bigelow Fellow and lecturer in law at the University of Chicago Law School and taught social studies and philosophy at Harvard University. She currently teaches First and Second Amendment law, cyberlaw, criminal law and procedure, and family law at the University of Miami. She is also the president and legislative and tech policy director at the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, a nonprofit organization that seeks to harness the power of law, policy, and technology to protect equal rights.

She is the author of the forthcoming book The Cult of the Constitution: Guns, Speech, and the Internet. Her legal scholarship has been published in Harvard Law Review, California Law Review, and UCLA Law Review, among others. She has also authored numerous articles for the popular press, including The Atlantic, The Guardian, and TIME Magazine.

The Hibbert R. Roberts Lecture in Public Policy was established to honor Hibbert R. Roberts, who was chair of the Department of Political Science for 22 years from 1969 to 1992. In his opening remarks, Department of Political Science Chair T.Y. Wang said Roberts’ long service is a testimony of his dedication to this department and Illinois State University. The event was sponsored by Illinois State’s Department of Politics and Government, the Provost’s Office and the Sage Foundation and was free and open to the public.