Hasen on “Cheap Speech and What It Has Done (to American Democracy)”

Richard L. Hasen (University of California, Irvine School of Law) posted an interesting article on the impact of new media on democracy,  including the emergence of fake news. This article is available on SSRN and will be published in the First Amendment Law Review.


“In a remarkably prescient article in a 1995 Yale Law Journal symposium on “Emerging Media Technology and the First Amendment,” Professor Eugene Volokh looked ahead to the coming Internet era and correctly predicted many changes. In Cheap Speech and What It Will Do, Volokh could foresee the rise of streaming music and video services such as Spotify and Netflix, the emergence of handheld tablets for reading books, the demise of classified advertising in the newspaper business, and more generally how cheap speech would usher in radical new opportunities for readers, viewers, and listeners to custom design what they read, see, and hear, while concomitantly undermining the power of intermediaries including publishers and book store owners.

To Volokh, these changes were exciting and democratizing. The overall picture he painted was a positive one, especially as First Amendment doctrine no longer had to deal with the scarcity of broadcast media to craft special First Amendment rules curtailing some aspects of free speech. As this article for a First Amendment Law Review symposium on “Fake News” argues, twenty-two years later, the picture of what cheap speech has already done and is likely to still do — in particular to American democracy — is considerably darker than Volokh’s vision. No doubt cheap speech has increased convenience, dramatically lowered the costs of obtaining information, and spurred the creation and consumption of content from radically diverse sources. But the economics of cheap speech also have undermined mediating and stabilizing institutions of American democracy including newspapers and political parties, with negative social and political consequences. In place of media scarcity, we now have a media firehose which has diluted trusted sources of information and led to the rise of “fake news” — falsehoods and propaganda spread by domestic and foreign sources for their own political and pecuniary purposes. The demise of local newspapers sets the stage for an increase in corruption among state and local officials. Rather than democratizing our politics, cheap speech appears to be hastening the irrelevancy of political parties by facilitating the ability of demagogues to secure support from voters by appealing directly to them, sometimes with incendiary appeals. Social media also can both increase intolerance and overcome collective action problems, both allowing for peaceful protest but also supercharging polarization and raising the dangers of violence in the United States.

The Supreme Court’s libertarian First Amendment doctrine did not cause the democracy problems associated with the rise of cheap speech, but it may stand in the way of needed reforms. For example, in the campaign finance arena the Court’s doctrine and accompanying libertarian ethos may stymie efforts to limit foreign money flowing into elections, including money being spent to propagate “fake news.” The Court’s reluctance to allow the government to regulate false speech in the political arena could limit laws aimed at requiring social media sites to curb false political advertising. Loose, optimistic dicta in the Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion for the Court in 2017’s Packingham v. North Carolina case also may have unintended consequences with its infinitely capacious language about First Amendment protection for social media. In the era of cheap speech, some shifts in First Amendment doctrine seem desirable to assist citizens in ascertaining truth and bolstering stabilizing institutions. Nonetheless, it is important not to fundamentally rework First Amendment doctrine, which also serves as a bulwark against government censorship and oppression potentially undertaken in an ostensible effort to battle “fake news.”

Non-governmental actors, rather than the courts and government, are in the best position to ameliorate some of the darker effects of cheap speech. Social media hosts and search sites such as Facebook, Google, and Twitter can assist readers, viewers, and listeners in ferreting out the truth if there is the commercial will to do so. Consumer pressure may be necessary to get there, but it is not clear if consumers or shareholders will have the power to move dominant market players who do not want to be moved. Fact checks can also help. Subsidies for (especially local) investigative reporting can also help the problems of corruption and bolster the credibility of newspapers and other supports for civil society. But nothing is certain to work in these precarious times, and the great freedom of information which Volokh rightly foresaw in the era of cheap speech is coming with a steep price for our democracy.”


Download the paper here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3017598


¿Puede un funcionario público bloquear a un usuario en su página oficial de Facebook? No, según una reciente decisión.

Hace algunos días en Estados Unidos un grupo de usuarios que cuyas cuentas de Twitter fueron bloquedas por el Presidente Trump recurrieron a la justicia representados por el Knight First Amendment Institute. El argumento consiste en que las redes sociales utilizadas por funcionarios públicos, en especial aquellos de elección popular, son “foros públicos” que no pueden restringirse arbitrariamente.

Esta semana una corte de distrito en Virginia adoptó una decisión en un caso parecido –¿tendrá el mismo descenlace el caso contra el Presidente Trump?– con respecto al sitio de Facebook de una funcionaria pública (Chair de la Loudoun County Board of Supervisors). La Corte además cita dos de los fallos más recientes de la Corte Suprema de Estados Unidos con respecto a la protección de expresiones ofensivas, y de la importancia de las redes sociales para el debate democrático:

If the Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence makes anything clear, it is that speech may not be disfavored bythe government simply because it offends. See Matal v. Tam, 137S. Ct. 1744, 1763 (2017) (listing cases). Here, as discussed above, Defendant acted in her governmental capacity. Defendant’s offense at Plaintiff’s views was therefore an illegitimate basis for her actions–particularly given that Plaintiff earned Defendant’s ire by criticizing the County government. Indeed, the suppression of critical commentary regarding elected officials is the quintessential form of viewpoint discrimination against which the First Amendment guards. See Rossignol, 316 F.3d at 521–22 . By prohibiting Plaintiff from participating in her online forum because shetook offense at his claim that her colleagues in the County government had acted unethically, Defendant committed a cardinalsin under the First Amendment.

Nueva sentencia de la Corte Suprema de Chile sobre el derecho al olvido

El lunes 24 de este mes, la Corte Suprema de Chile dictó una nueva sentencia que rechaza el derecho al olvido por publicaciones en medios de comunicación. La Corte sostuvo que tal derecho no está reconocido en nuestro ordenamiento, y que la publicación que se pretendía eliminar o actualizar contenía información de interés público.

En lo personal, contento porque es la segunda vez que la Corte Suprema cita mi artículo sobre el derecho al olvido y libertad de prensa.

Que en situaciones asimilables a la de autos se ha dicho por la doctrina que “la información criminal o de sanciones administrativas impuestas en contra de una persona forma parte de registros públicos y goza de interés periodístico, y aun con el transcurso del tiempo tiene la aptitud de adquirir un interés histórico respecto del comportamiento de una persona, o de controlar la actividadde quienes impusieron la sanción”. (Zárate Rojas, Sebastián: “La problemática entre el derecho al olvido y la libertad de prensa”, en Derecom, Nº 13 (mar-may) 2013, disponible en Dialnet. p.8).”
Que la noticia publicada en Internet ciertamente tenía una relevancia pública, por tratarse de un funcionario de la Policía de Investigaciones y tener la calidad de perito judicial designado por la Corte de Apelaciones de Santiago, quien con ocasión de un peritaje encargado por el Tribunal de Libre Competencia tomó conocimiento que el sistema era vulnerable y que estaba ingresando indebidamente al portal Gino Rojas.”

Redish and Fisher on “Terrorizing Advocacy and the First Amendment: Free Expression and the Fallacy of Mutual Exclusivity”

Martin H. Redish and Matthew Fisher (Northwestern University – Pritzker School of Law) published this interesting article proposing a new category they call terrorizing advocacy: “Terrorizing advocacy is a type of traditionally protected public advocacy of unlawful conduct that simultaneously exhibits the unprotected pathologies of a true threat. Terrorizing advocacy contains both a protected persuasive, expressive element and an unprotected intimidating, coercive element. Based on this insight, First Amendment doctrines dealing with criminal speech must be reshaped to take into account the hybrid nature of terrorizing advocacy.”


Recent concern about modern terrorists’ attempts to induce ideologically-driven violence has given rise to a First Amendment dilemma. Some conclude that to preserve our free speech tradition, unlawful advocacy must be protected absent the imminent danger of harm. Others argue that traditional First Amendment protection must be suspended in the specific context of terrorist speech to prevent potentially violent catastrophes. We seek to resolve this dilemma by recognizing a new hybrid category called “terrorizing advocacy.” This is a type of traditionally protected public unlawful advocacy that simultaneously exhibits the unprotected pathologies of true threats. When a speaker urges a willing listener to commit violence against an intended victim who is an intended recipient of the speaker’s advocacy, the speech constitutes a blend of protected persuasive and unprotected coercive speech. We propose a new multi-factor test designed to balance these competing elements in a manner that protects unlawful advocacy when appropriate but suppresses inherently coercive threats where they dominate the expression. In this manner we have recognized an inherent duality of two types of criminal speech when to date courts and scholars have implicitly assumed the mutual exclusivity of unlawful advocacy and true threats doctrine.

Download the paper here: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3001025

Latest hate speech ECHR decision (Belkacem v. Belgium)

The case concerned the conviction of Mr Belkacem, the leader and spokesperson of the organisation “Sharia4Belgium”, which was dissolved in 2012, for incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence on account of remarks he made in YouTube videos concerning non-Muslim groups and Sharia. (. . . ) In the Court’s view, such a general and vehement attack was incompatible with the values of tolerance, social peace and non-discrimination underlying the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Press release here http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng-press?i=003-5795519-7372789

Full decision here (in French) http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng-press?i=003-5795519-7372789

Tribunal Constitucional Español y distinción entre información y opinión

¿Puede establecerse por mandato legal la distinción “clara” entre información y la opinión? No. Interesante el razoniento del Tribunal Constitucional Español en la sentencia de este mes (4 de julio), que fuera publicada la semana pasada (19 de julio). El texto de la Ley 22/2005, de la Ley de Comunicación Audivisual de Cataluña exigíaen su artículo 80 letra f) «hacer una separación clara entre informaciones y opiniones, y respetar el principio de veracidad en la difusión de la información. Se entiende por información veraz la que es el resultado de una comprobación diligente de los hechos».
Para revisar el texto completo:
Acá transcribo el análisis comentado:
Cuestión diferente es la concerniente al primer inciso del artículo 80 f) de la Ley 22/2005 que exige la separación clara entre informaciones y opiniones pues, en este caso, incluso la sanción administrativa se muestra como excesiva o desalentadora del ejercicio del derecho fundamental. Es cierto que nos hemos pronunciado en reiteradas ocasiones (desde la STC 104/1986, de 17 de julio) sobre la necesidad de diferenciar la libertad de expresión (cuyo objeto son los pensamientos, ideas y opiniones) del derecho a comunicar información veraz (cuyo objeto es la difusión de aquellos hechos que merecen ser considerados noticiables); siendo relevante esta distinción desde la perspectiva de la legitimidad constitucional de su ejercicio y de la determinación de sus límites. Así, tal como hemos recordado en la STC 79/2014, de 28 de mayo, FJ 4, mientras que «los hechos son susceptibles de prueba, las opiniones o juicios de valor, por su misma naturaleza, no se prestan a una demostración de exactitud, y ello hace que al que ejercita la libertad de expresión no le sea exigible la prueba de la verdad o diligencia en su averiguación, que condiciona, en cambio, la legitimidad del derecho de información por expreso mandato constitucional, que ha añadido al término «información», en el texto del artículo 20.1 d) CE, el adjetivo «veraz» (SSTC 278/2005, de 7 de noviembre, FJ 2; 174/2006, de 5 de junio, FJ 3; 29/2009, de 26 de enero, FJ 2, y 50/2010, FJ 4). Pero en esta misma línea también hemos subrayado la dificultad, en la realidad, de separar la expresión de opiniones de la simple narración de hechos, pues la expresión de ideas y opiniones se apoya constantemente en la narración de los hechos y, a la inversa, en la narración se aprecia casi siempre algú elemento valorativo tendente a la formación de una opinión (entre otras, SSTC 6/1988, de 21 de enero, FJ 5; 174/2006, FJ 3; 29/2009, FJ 2; 50/2010, FJ 4, y 79/2014, FJ 4).
De todo lo anterior se desprende la dificultad de aceptar que una diferenciación cuya operatividad radica en la determinación de las conductas que se encuentran amparadas por una u otra libertad fundamental (expresión o información) encuentre su reflejo en una ley que, al prever esa «separación clara», lo único que hace es establecer una obligación formal de programación cuyo incumplimiento (difícil, como acabamos de señalar) puede conllevar la sanción de suspensión de actividad por un tiempo de tres meses. El efectodesalentador del ejercicio del derecho que se deriva de esta previsión se percibe solo con tomar como ejemplo el caso de los debates o tertulias políticas en las que, de forma evidente, se mezclan ambas facetas, siendo desproporcionado exigir que en ese tipo deintervenciones se esté alertando en cada momento de cuándo se está ejerciendo la libertad de opinión y cuándo la libertad de información.