Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Daniel Francis's Written Testimony For the Hearing on "Breaking the News: Journalism, Competition, and the Effects of Market Power on a Free Press" @DSFrancis1 @nyulaw

Daniel Francis, NYU School of Law, has published U.S. Senate Testimony for Hearing on 'Breaking the News: Journalism, Competition, and the Effects of Market Power on a Free Press'. Here is the abstract.

Congress ought not enact the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act. The Act would not solve publishers’ problems, which are grounded in the realities of competition and the nature of property rights on the Internet. Moreover, the Act would have undesirable consequences, including by providing an indefensible handout to large media companies, by significantly restricting vital Internet freedoms, and by abrogating our national commitment to competition. Instead, Congress should support antitrust enforcement, and may wish to consider less distortionary and harmful - and more targeted - methods of supporting small, rural, and struggling news publishers.

Download Professor Francis's written testimony from SSRN at the link.

March 30, 2023 | Permalink

Srinivasan on Whether Journalists Drive Media Slant @TheKarthikS @ChicagoBooth

Karthik Srinivasan, University of Chicago, has published Do Journalists Drive Media Slant? Here is the abstract.

I study the scope of a principle-agent problem in the field. I analyze news firms and journalists with possibly misaligned preferences over the partisan slant of content, and find that the firm's ability to exert control is limited. I construct a dataset that links 2,700 journalists to firms, news articles, and Twitter profiles. I measure article slant with a machine learning algorithm I train to identify partisan phrases. Using a movers design, I find firm ideology does not change the slant of a journalist’s writing. In contrast, journalist ideology, estimated using the following decisions of Twitter users, is strongly correlated with article slant.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 30, 2023 | Permalink

Monday, March 27, 2023

Voss and Pernot-Leplay on China Data Flows and Power in the Era of Chinese Big Tech @wgvoss @PernotLeplay @NLawBizTech

W. Gregory Voss, TBS Business School, and Emmanuel Pernot-Leplay, Shanghai Jiao Tong University-KoGuan Law School; Tilburg University, Tilburg Institute For Law, Technology, and Society, are publishing China Data Flows and Power in the Era of Chinese Big Tech in volume 44 of the Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business (2023/2024). Here is the abstract.

Personal data have great economic interest today and their possession and control are the object of geopolitics, leading to their regulation by means that vary dependent on the strategic objectives of the jurisdiction considered. This study fills a gap in the literature in this area by analyzing holistically the regulation of personal data flows both into and from China, the world’s second largest economy. In doing so, it focuses on laws and regulations of three major power blocs: the United States, the European Union, and China, seen within the framework of geopolitics, and considering the rise of Chinese big tech. First, this study analyzes ways that the United States—the champion of the free-flow of data that has helped feed the success of the Silicon Valley system—has in specific cases prevented data flows to China on grounds of individual data protection and national security. The danger of this approach and alternate protection through potential U.S. federal data privacy legislation are evoked. Second, the cross-border data flow restriction of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is studied in the context of data exports to China, including where the data transit via the United States prior to their transfer to China. Next, after review of the conditions for a European Commission adequacy determination and an examination of recent data privacy legislation in China, the authors provide a preliminary negative assessment of the potential for such a determination for China, where government access is an important part of the picture. Difficult points are highlighted for investigation by data exporters to China, when relying on EU transfer mechanisms, following the Schrems II jurisprudence. Finally, recent Chinese regulations establishing requirements for the export of data are studied. In this exercise, light is shed on compliance requirements for companies under Chinese law, provisions of Chinese data transfer regulations that are similar to the those of the GDPR, and aspects that show China’s own approach to restrictions on data transfers, such as an emphasis on national security protection. This study concludes with the observation that restrictions for data flows both into and out of China will continue and potentially be amplified, and economic actors will need to prepare themselves to navigate the relevant regulations examined in this study.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 27, 2023 | Permalink

Hendricksen and Betz on The Stolen Election Lie and the Freedom of Speech @Henricksen @Barry_Law @PennStLRev

Wes Hendricksen and Broderick Betz, both of Barry University School of Law, have published The Stolen Election Lie and the Freedom of Speech at 127 Penn St. L. Rev PennStatim  111 (2023). Here is the abstract.

In an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, the losing candidate, Donald Trump, falsely claimed his opponent, Joe Biden, had stolen the election. This involved dozens of baseless allegations, which Trump repeated hundreds of times. These false claims were echoed and amplified by right-wing leaders and media, and were endorsed as part of the political platform for hundreds of Republican candidates in the 2022 election. As a result, millions of Americans have been duped into believing the election was not “won” by Biden, but “stolen” by him. This Stolen Election Lie has severely diminished Americans’ trust in the electoral system. It caused a violent mob to attack the United States Capitol in an effort to thwart the peaceful transfer of power. It has also served as the basis for numerous efforts to disenfranchise voters. It has, in short, caused widespread harm to individuals and society. And yet, this brazen scheme to defraud the public has, to date, gone unpunished. In fact, those responsible for spreading it have been rewarded, and many have even won political office. From a First Amendment perspective, the Stolen Election Lie sits at the intersection of political speech and fraudulent speech. Political speech has the highest free speech protections. Fraudulent speech has no protections. To date, courts and scholars have almost universally treated disinformation campaigns like the Stolen Election Lie as false speech. In this Article, we argue that harmful disinformation that operates as fraud on the public should instead be treated as fraudulent speech. Falsehoods peddled to the public in bad faith and for personal gain should, like other kinds of fraud, enjoy no First Amendment protections. Those who create and disseminate harmful falsehoods aimed at misleading people should not be rewarded, but punished. Fraud should be regulable, whether aimed at one victim or at millions. Although this principle is simple to articulate, crafting a workable framework of speech restrictions to capture fraud on the public poses significant challenges. Nevertheless, given the harm resulting from allowing unfettered fraud on the public, it is urgent that we find ways to close the loophole that allows people to profit off of manipulating public opinion by spreading intentionally false speech. Closing this loophole will not only further numerous important free speech policy aims; it will also help protect against future attempts to thwart democracy.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 27, 2023 | Permalink

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Bhagwat on The New Gatekeepers?: Social Media and the "Search for Truth" @UCDavisLaw @JournalSpeech

Ashutosh Avinash Bhagwat, University of California, Davis, School of Law, is publishing The New Gatekeepers?: Social Media and the 'Search for Truth' in the Journal of Free Speech Law. Here is the abstract.

One of the most notable, and noted, consequences of the spread of social media is the collapse of sources of information that are broadly trusted across society. This is a troubling development, it is argued, because trusted communicators are needed if we are to maintain a common base of facts, accepted by the broader public, that is essential to a system of democratic governance. As consensus on facts collapses, so too does democracy. Why do we find ourselves in this situation? The crucial insight here is that through most of the 20th century, trusted communicators were also the gatekeepers of knowledge and news. These gatekeepers—the institutional media—tended to be highly concentrated, and sought to develop reputation as “objective,” nonpartisan figures—as epitomized by Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite of CBS. The key point to understand, however, is that the public trusted media gatekeepers because they had no choice—there were no significant opposing voices to question or undermine that trust. And because these gatekeepers overwhelmingly tended to reflect the views of the political center, there were simply no opportunities for the public to question consensus facts or to become aware of what the institution media was not telling them. Eventually, of course, this system of institutional concentration and consensus collapsed. While the decline in trust in the media dates back to the 1970s, there can be little doubt that the internet put a final end to institutional media’s dominance. In a world in which every citizen became a potential publisher, people suddenly had a choice of what voices to pay attention to. For similar reasons, the range of opinions expressed publicly became massively more diverse, and so consequently did factual world views. And political polarization ensures that people embrace those world views that reflect their own preexisting views and biases. Hence the collapse in consensus. The loss of faith in institutional elites and the institutional media has created an intellectual atmosphere of existential angst. The primary response to this angst has been to place enormous amounts of pressure on the new gatekeepers—which are surely social media platforms, given their dominance in funneling public discourse—to replicate the role of the 20th century institutional media. The question I am raising is whether, leaving aside the (dubious) constitutionality of regulating social media, is it even a good idea to try and push social media to be gatekeepers who determine who is, and is not, a trusted communicator. I will argue that it is not, for several reasons. First, social media have no economic incentives to act as responsible gatekeepers. Second, social media firms have absolutely no expertise or training that would enable them to be either effective gatekeepers of truth, or identifiers of trusted communicators. But third, and finally, I would question whether any gatekeepers are a good idea. Leaving aside the difficulty of identifying “truth,” my question is, are gatekeepers and deference to designated “experts” (i.e., trusted communicators) really the best way to identify “truth” and, conversely, misinformation? I think not, and I think that First Amendment principles support my view. First, there is a deep tension between this institutional conformity and Justice Holmes’s notion of the “marketplace of ideas”: “that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition in the market.” In an institutional system of conformity and concentration, from wherein will emerge competition among ideas? Relatedly, the Supreme Court has insisted since the time of Louis Brandeis that when faced with false or dangerous speech, “the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” Gatekeepers are anathema to competition and are quintessentially silencers. In short, perhaps the collapse of gatekeepers and trusted communicators is not such a terrible thing after all. And instead of trying to recreate a bygone era, perhaps we should be thinking about how to reinvigorate the marketplace of ideas, and public discourse, that surmounts political polarization.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 22, 2023 | Permalink

Thursday, March 16, 2023

Inazu on First Amendment Scrutiny: Realigning First Amendment Doctrine Around Government Interests @JohnInazu @WUSTL @WashULaw @BrooklynLawRev

John D. Inazu, Washington University, St. Louis, School of Law, is publishing First Amendment Scrutiny: Realigning First Amendment Doctrine Around Government Interests in the Brooklyn Law Review. Here is the abstract.

This Article proposes a simpler way to frame judicial analysis of First Amendment claims: a government restriction on First Amendment expression or action must advance a compelling interest through narrowly tailored means and must not excessively burden the expression or action relative to the interest advanced. The test thus has three prongs: (1) compelling interest; (2) narrow tailoring; and (3) proportionality. Part I explores how current First Amendment doctrine too often minimizes or ignores a meaningful assessment of the government’s purported interest in limiting First Amendment liberties. Part II shows how First Amendment inquiry is further confused by threshold inquiries into coverage, categories, and content. Part III suggests how a uniform strict scrutiny test could better focus courts on government interests and related analyses. Part IV defends this test against possible objections. Taken seriously, a uniform strict scrutiny test could eliminate cumbersome doctrinal tests and detours that have emerged over the past sixty years. These tests and doctrines are not unprincipled or illogical. In most cases, they emerged out of tough cases and hard issues, with judges and scholars attempting to draw reasonable distinctions and sensible boundaries. But along the way, these approaches became bloated, unwieldy, and difficult to hold together. The result has been a great deal of confusion and head-scratching, including by lower courts attempting to apply Supreme Court precedent. Strict scrutiny shows why these tests and detours are neither necessary nor desirable for First Amendment analysis and how a more simplified analysis better protects our most important civil liberties.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 16, 2023 | Permalink

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Mayer on Nonprofits, Taxes, and Speech @NDLaw @LLSlawreview

Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, Notre Dame Law School, is publishing Nonprofits, Taxes, and Speech in volume 56 of the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review. Here is the abstract.

Federal tax law is of two minds when it comes to speech by nonprofits. The tax benefits provided to nonprofits are justified in significant part because they provide nonprofits great discretion in choosing the specific ends and means to pursue, thereby promoting diversity and pluralism. But current law withholds some of these tax benefits if a nonprofit engages in certain types of political speech. Legislators have also repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, sought to expand these political speech restrictions in various ways. And some commentators have proposed denying tax benefits to groups engaged in other types of disfavored speech, including hate speech and fake news. These latter proposals have recently become more prominent as additional facts come to light about the role of nonprofits in supporting white supremacy and in disseminating misleading information about COVID-19 treatments. This Article explores the existing and proposed limitations on speech by tax-exempt nonprofits given the constitutional restrictions on such limitations and the policy justifications for existing nonprofit tax benefits. It explains why the existing limits on political campaign intervention and lobbying by charities are both justified given the subsidy provided to charities and their supporters under existing federal tax law and constitutional given existing and longstanding case law. It further concludes that any expansion of these limits on charities to cover other types of speech, including hate speech and fake news, would be inconsistent with the existing broad definitions of the purposes that charities can pursue as well as, in some circumstances, constitutionally suspect. It also concludes that limits on speech by non-charitable tax-exempt nonprofits, including the existing limit on political campaign intervention for some of these nonprofits, is both unwise as a policy matter and, in some circumstances, constitutionally suspect given the lack of a subsidy for such speech by these nonprofits.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 11, 2023 | Permalink

Friday, March 10, 2023

Tourkochoriti on Comparative Law and Philosophy of History: The Case of Free Speech in American and French Legal Thought @IoannaTourkocho @UniofGalwayLaw @CambridgeUP

Ioanna Tourkochoriti, Harvard Law School; National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) - School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law, is publishing Comparative Law and Philosophy of History: The Case of Free Speech in American and French Legal Thought in Comparative legal history, the Values, Purposes and Methods of Historical Comparison (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2023). Here is the abstract.

This chapter proposes to approach comparative rights jurisprudence from the perspective of philosophy of history. Focusing on the difference in the protection of speech in France and the US, it suggests that comparative history helps make sense of the formation of philosophical conceptions on the appropriate limits to free speech. Some philosophical ideas formed in response to historical facts led to the emergence of legal traditions. These traditions can help us understand the divergence in the protection of freedom of speech between France and the US. The central argument is that the balancing of freedom of speech and other values in France and the United States can be understood by reference to the role of the government and the understanding of liberty. The chapter aims to approach critically two different conceptions of republicanism and their significance for rights. The methodology that it follows is Gadamer’s hermeneutics. Gadamer describes human understanding as formed on the basis of prejudices. By that the means preliminary judgments. The chapter identifies some ideas which form the ex ante understanding of the jurists in a legal system concerning the necessity to protect one liberty over another. The difference in approach between France and the US indicates a profound difference which concerns the “imaginary institution” of society and the state on the two sides of the Atlantic.

Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

March 10, 2023 | Permalink

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Burnworth on Making a Constitutional "Son of Sam" Law: Netflix's Booming True Crime Business @UMassAmherst @hastingsclq

Justin Burnworth, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, is publishing Making A Constitutional 'Son of Sam' Law: Netflix's Booming True Crime Business in volume 49 of the Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly (2022). Here is the abstract.

We all heard the axiom "crime doesn't pay" growing up, but the ever growing true crime documentary market is proving otherwise. Giant media producers such as Netflix, HBO, and their competitors have made marketable crimes a worthwhile endeavor. Nearly 40 states have passed "Son of Sam" laws to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes. However, the Supreme Court struck down New York's "Son of Sam" law in 1991 when they ruled that it violated the First Amendment and would allow the government to prevent books by Martin Luther King, Jr. and other pioneers of social justice. New York altered their law in an attempt to remedy its constitutional issues and other states copied their structure. A First Amendment battle is primed to make its way to the Supreme Court once again as high profile criminals, such as the fake heiress Anna Sorokin, have New York's revamped law standing between them and their exorbitant paydays. The states have put up a worthwhile fight, but the First Amendment is a difficult foe to vanquish. It simply is not possible to narrowly tailor a "Son of Sam" law to prevent criminals from profiting from their crimes without it potentially silencing key voices in invaluable social movements in the United States.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 9, 2023 | Permalink

Nealy on the Social Sanctions on Speech

Thomas Nealy, Seton Hall Law School, is publishing Social Sanctions on Speech at 2 J. Free Speech L. 21 (2022). Here is the abstract.

Social sanctions on speech are ubiquitous. Every day, private actors respond to speech they dislike, disagree with, or find offensive with measures that impose a cost on speakers and thus potentially chill the expression of ideas. Some sanctions, such as criticism and condemnation, are mild and largely unobjectionable, while others, such as violence and vandalism, are severe and clearly unacceptable. Yet there are numerous sanctions in between these two poles and little agreement on which ones are compatible with the principle of free speech. In this essay, I provide a framework for thinking about social sanctions - and the phenomenon of “cancel culture” they are part of. I begin by explaining that social sanctions, in some form at least, are an inevitable and indispensable part of our free speech system. I then consider three possible criteria for distinguishing between permissible and impermissible sanctions - intent, effect, and means—and conclude that we should focus primarily on the means used to sanction. Finally, I argue that whether a particular social sanction is consistent with free speech depends on a balancing of its expressive value and its coerciveness, and I use this approach to plot a variety of social sanctions on the continuum from least to most troubling.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 9, 2023 | Permalink

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Tilley on The First Amendment and the Second Sex @CristinaTilley @arizlrev

Cristina Tilley, University of Iowa College of Law, is publishing The First Amendment and the Second Sex in volume 65 of the Arizona Law Review (2023). Here is the abstract.

Modern American law describes speech in stereotypically masculine terms: it is a “marketplace” where participants “joust” for dominance. Predictably, today’s speech jurisprudence can be hostile to the female voice, implicitly condoning gendered death threats, rape threats, doxing, and trolling as the necessary price of a vibrant national discourse. Unpredictably, the American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) and its leading women drafted the blueprint for this modern speech edifice. The First Amendment and the Second Sex traces the ACLU campaign to dismantle a nineteenth-century speech regime that silenced some men while protecting many women. And it suggests that ACLU feminists—intent on securing full legal and cultural equality with men—were complicit in this effort because they scoffed at the domesticated version of womanhood shielded by protective speech torts like slander. This Article begins by surfacing the deep architecture of nineteenth-century life and law, with its bright boundaries between public and private. When speech regulation was commonplace and the First Amendment slept, public law was free to punish government criticism in the public sphere—a distinctly anti-democratic phenomenon. At the same time though, women in the private sphere targeted by domestic gossip had generous remedies in private law—a distinctly empowering phenomenon. It then shows how, throughout the twentieth century, the ACLU urged the Supreme Court to treat all law as public law and all life as public life. Across this new public terrain, the group argued, speech regulation should be replaced with self-help in the form of muscular counterspeech. ACLU luminaries on the distaff side joined this campaign, convinced that women were on the cusp of full public citizenship. Because this cultural turn would give women status to counterspeak, they were certain the protection of remedial speech torts would grow obsolete. Today it appears that the women of the ACLU fatally miscalculated. American law has adopted the premise that all can navigate the deregulated marketplace of ideas by marshaling ideas and intellect. But American culture clings to the preference for private womanhood, producing gendered consequences for female speech. Modern women who bring their ideas into the public sphere are just as likely to be refuted with attacks on their domestic status or sexuality as they are with intellectual rejoinders. Stripped of the private law that used to repel such threats, these women are left either to counterspeak in ways that aggravate their personal peril or to withdraw from the speech arena altogether. The Article contends the time has come to acknowledge the tax that speech law extracts from women, and to ask whether today’s expressive marketplace is fair or foul.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 2, 2023 | Permalink

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Kang On Against Political Speech @UNM_Law

John M. Kang, University of New Mexico School of Law, is publishing Against Political Speech in volume 22 of the Nevada Law Journal (2022). Here is the abstract.

The Supreme Court has dedicated itself to the proposition that political speech, more than any other category of speech, is deserving the highest protection. This Article argues that the Supreme Court’s heightened protection for political speech is unjustified. The Article is organized as follows. Part I summarizes how the Supreme Court has privileged political speech. Part I then identifies two arguments that have been enlisted by the Court and scholars to support the contention that political speech deserves the highest protection from the Constitution. The Article will explain why both arguments are unpersuasive. Even if scholars and the Supreme Court were able to defend their position that political speech deserved the highest protection, Part II will argue that the effort to afford special protection to political speech is nevertheless unfeasible. For “political” speech is much too difficult to define. Part III raises a different objection to the Court’s elevation of political speech. The heightened protection that the Court has granted to political speech frequently comes at the cost of two essential goods which are indispensable to society: civility and dignity. Part III argues that the Court has failed to justify why political speech should take precedence over these countervalues.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

March 1, 2023 | Permalink

Monday, February 27, 2023

Student Press Law Center Accepting Applications For Legal Intern @SPLC

From Josh Moore, Assistant Director, Student Press Law Center:


The Student Press Law Center is accepting applications for a remote Summer 2023 legal intern. The internship is a terrific opportunity for law students interested in media law topics and the First Amendment and free press rights of journalists, and particularly student journalists.

Our paid legal internship is open to all U.S.-based law students who will have completed their first year of law school before the internship begins. The full-time internship will last 8 to 10 weeks and begin around May 29, though exact start and end dates are flexible.

The full posting, with information on how to apply, is here. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis but must be received by email no later than 11:59 p.m. eastern on March 20. Interested students are encouraged to apply early.

Please share this opportunity with any students who may be interested. Thank you!

February 27, 2023 | Permalink

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Soucek and Chen on Misunderstanding Meriwether @BRSoucek @UCDavisLaw

Brian Soucek and Ryan Chen, both of the University of California, Davis, School of Law, have published Misunderstanding Meriwether as a forthcoming UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper. Here is the abstract.

Meriwether v. Hartop is widely seen as one of the most important academic freedom and transgender rights cases of recent years. Whether praising it as a victory for free speech, or condemning it as a threat to educational equality, commentators across the political spectrum have agreed on one thing: the Sixth Circuit did something big when it held that professors at public universities have a First Amendment right to misgender their students in class. But contrary to popular belief, Meriwether held no such thing. In fact, the Sixth Circuit could not have held what nearly everyone believes, given the case’s procedural posture. Meriwether has been misunderstood, and this Article aims to put a halt to the false narrative that has emerged around Meriwether before its consequences continue to spread. Where previous work has explained why Meriwether’s holding is wrong, this Article delves into the complicated intersection of civil procedure and government employee speech claims to show why Meriwether’s holding is different, and far less important, than its foes and friends alike seem to think. In doing so, the Article also shows how a false legal narrative can develop, spreading from an opinion that encourages the mistake, to advocates and press who eagerly report it, to commentators, legislators, and courts each with reasons of their own for inflating the opinion’s importance, eroding gender identity protections along the way. This Article, finally, situates the widespread misunderstanding of Meriwether alongside other precedential mistakes and offers insight into how they might be counteracted before further distorting the law and threatening important equality rights.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

February 16, 2023 | Permalink

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Newly Published: Samantha Barbas: Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan (UC Press, 2023) @ucpress @UBSchoolofLaw

Newly published:

Samantha Barbas, University at Buffalo School of Law, Actual Malice: Civil Rights and Freedom of the Press in New York Times v. Sullivan (University of California Press, 2023).   (Release date is 2/21). Here from the publisher's website is a description of the book's contents.


Actual Malice tells the full story of New York Times v. Sullivan, the dramatic case that grew out of segregationists' attempts to quash reporting on the civil rights movement. In its landmark 1964 decision, the Supreme Court held that a public official must prove "actual malice" or reckless disregard of the truth to win a libel lawsuit, providing critical protections for free speech and freedom of the press.

Drawing on previously unexplored sources, including the archives of the New York Times Company and civil rights leaders, Samantha Barbas tracks the saga behind one of the most important First Amendment rulings in history. She situates the case within the turbulent 1960s and the history of the press, alongside striking portraits of the lawyers, officials, judges, activists, editors, and journalists who brought and defended the case. As the Sullivan doctrine faces growing controversy, Actual Malice reminds us of the stakes of the case that shaped American reporting and public discourse as we know it.

February 14, 2023 | Permalink

Wednesday, February 8, 2023

Levi on Disinformation and the Defamation Renaissance @LiliLevi_UMLaw @MiamiLawSchool @URLawReview

Lili Levi, University of Miami School of Law, is publishing Disinformation and the Defamation Renaissance: A Misleading Promise of “Truth” in volume 57 of the University of Richmond Law Review (2023). Here is the abstract.

Today, defamation litigation is experiencing a renaissance, with progressives and conservatives, public officials and celebrities, corporations and high school students heading to the courthouse to use libel lawsuits as a social and political fix. Many of these suits reflect a powerful new rhetoric—reframing the goal of defamation law as fighting disinformation. Appeals to the need to combat falsity in public discourse have fueled efforts to reverse the Supreme Court’s press-protective constitutional limits on defamation law under the New York Times v. Sullivan framework. The anti-disinformation frame could tip the scales and generate a majority on the Court to dismantle almost 60 years of constitutionalized defamation law. The new anti-disinformation frame brings with it serious democratic costs without clear corresponding benefits. Defamation lawsuits cannot credibly stem the systemic tide of disinformation or predictably correct reputational harm, but they do threaten powerful chilling effects for the press, super-sized by our current socio-historical context. Especially as claims of disinformation drift away from political speech to economic and social matters, this as a distinct justification increasingly evaporates. Lest progressives too quickly rejoice over the apparent success of their disinformation claims against right-wing media, anti-disinformation defamation litigation presents an equal opportunity invitation—and conservative cases are already on track. The new disinformation frame for defamation suits offers an illusory distraction and further politicizes defamation. Instead, the Article suggests a shift of focus to the audience in order to advance the anti-disinformation project while returning defamation law to its traditional concern with individual reputation.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

February 8, 2023 | Permalink

Monday, February 6, 2023

Tenzer on Destroying Defamation @ProfLGTenzer @HaubLawatPace

Leslie Y. Garfield Tenzer, Pace University School of Law, has published Destroying Defamation. Here is the abstract.

Fake News is destroying defamation. The recent proliferation of rushed journalism, online conspiracy theories, and claims that almost every news story is, in fact, “Face News” have created a desert of veracity. Widespread public skepticism about even the most mainstream Internet reporting means plaintiffs will have difficulty convincing jurors that third parties believed any reported statement to be true. Without such proof, it's almost impossible for a plaintiff to prove the elements of defamation. To establish defamation, a plaintiff must show that the defendant “published” to a third party a false statement, purporting to be fact, which caused reputational harm. Hyperbolic language or other indications that a statement was not meant to be taken seriously are not actionable. Today’s understanding that everything on the Internet is susceptible to manipulation is destroying defamation. This article explains the unforeseen consequence of labeling news as “fake.” The article begins with a historical review of Fake News, concluding with an understanding of the phenomenon in its current iteration. It follows with a discussion of the tort of defamation. It explores the uniqueness of proving online statements as libel or slander. It illustrates how plaintiffs bringing defamation claims for Internet statements will have difficulty persuading a judge that the message was factual and not merely hyperbole. Even if the judge finds a statement to be fact, allowing the issue to move to the jury, a plaintiff in today’s Fake News climate is unlikely to convince a jury that a reasonable person would find the statement defamatory. The abundance of fake news, the media’s rush to publish, and external attacks on credible journalism have created a problematization of truth among members of society. The potential for defamatory harm is minimal when the veracity of a news story is questionable. This paper argues that the presence of Fake News is a blight on this cause of action that threatens to erode defamation to the point of irrelevance.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

February 6, 2023 | Permalink

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Cohen-Almagor on Holocaust-Denial and the Abuse of Education @almagor35

Raphael Cohen-Almagor, Centre for Advanced Middle Eastern Studies; Middle East Study Centre; Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; University of Hull, has published Holocaust Denial and the Abuse of Education in Festschrist Joerden (Joanna Długosz-Jóźwiak et al, eds., Europa-Universität Viadrina Frankfurt Oder, 2023).

This article is opened by explaining a specific type of hate speech: Holocaust denial. I will establish that Holocaust denial is a form of hate speech. The article is concerned with the expression of this idea by educators. I make some constructive distinctions that will help in crystallizing our treatment of teachers who are Holocaust deniers. Should we allow Holocaust deniers to teach in schools? I will attempt to answer this question through a close look at the Canadian experience in dealing with such educators. In this context, the article probes the leading case of James Keegstra. I will argue that hate mongers cannot assume the role of educators. Educating and preaching hate come one at the expense of the other. You can either educate or preach hate. You cannot do both.

Download the essay from SSRN at the link.

January 31, 2023 | Permalink

Monday, January 16, 2023

Happy Birthday, Newton Minow!

Happy birthday, Newton Minow! Born January 17, 1926.


January 16, 2023 | Permalink

Thursday, January 5, 2023

Cowls and Ma on The "Internet's Town Square"? A Critical Discourse Analysis of Parler's Free Speech Imaginary @joshcowls

Josh Cowls and Cindy Ma, both of the University of Oxford, Oxford Internet Institute, have published The 'Internet's Town Square'? A Critical Discourse Analysis of Parler's Free Speech Imaginary.  Here is the abstract.

The discursive construction of sociotechnical imaginaries by the leaders of platform companies can help legitimize their platforms, shaping how they are perceived and ultimately regulated. Scholars have identified the construction of “future imaginaries” by leaders of large platform companies such as Meta—but do smaller platforms also seek to construct imaginaries, and if so, what form do they take? In this article we undertake a critical discourse analysis of public pronouncements by John Matze, co-founder and CEO of the fringe social media platform Parler. Parler gained significant popularity among right-wing users during 2020, before it was removed from Apple’s and Google’s app stores in January 2021 following the riot at the United States Capitol. Using van Leeuwen’s framework for discursive legitimation, we analyze a curated dataset of 186 news articles to identify the legitimating themes that Matze invoked in his discursive construction of Parler throughout 2020. We find that Matze foregrounded free expression, and with it the vision of Parler as a “town square,” to legitimate his fledging platform. However, this discursive construction must be understood in the context of Parler’s base of predominantly right-wing users, many of whom turned to Parler because of the perceived “bias” and “censorship” of mainstream platforms. We argue that, in contrast to the future imaginaries constructed for large platform companies like Meta, Matze’s discursive strategy constructed an imaginary that was fundamentally retrograde. We tie Parler’s backwards-looking free speech imaginary to efforts by far-right groups to justify and legitimate racist hate speech in increasingly platformized societies.

January 5, 2023 | Permalink