Lies and the Law
Piotr Szyhalski

Lies and the Law

A series of public conversations exploring what the law can and should do about the problem of lies and deception in the contemporary mass public sphere

Concern over the role that lies and deception of all kinds play in public life in the United States has reached new heights in the last few years. Lies, half-truths, and conspiracy theories zip around the social media platforms, while fact-checking and other efforts to minimize their spread appear to rarely dent their power. What some describe as an epistemic crisis of truth has prompted calls from many quarters for the social media platforms, and perhaps also the government, to take stronger action to curb harmful lies about the outcome of the presidential election, the efficacy of coronavirus vaccines, and the seriousness of COVID-19, among other matters.

The pervasiveness of lies and misinformation in public discourse in the United States, and the political and cultural power that this kind of speech can possess raise all sorts of questions about the health of U.S. democracy, about the limits of human reason, and about the role that shared beliefs play in the creation of collective identity. But it also raises important questions about the meaning of freedom of speech. One of the foundational assumptions of modern First Amendment law is that the best remedy for harmful speech—including harmfully false or misleading speech—is more speech. Does this assumption hold, given our contemporary, fragmented, highly polarized mass public sphere? And if it doesn’t, what can we do about it? More precisely, what can the law do about it? Are there cures here that would not be worse than the disease?

These are the questions that the Knight Institute will be examining through 2022. Under the direction of Senior Visiting Research Scholar Genevieve Lakier, the Institute will host a series of public conversations, both in-person and virtual, to explore what the law can and should do about the problem of lies and deception in the contemporary mass public sphere. The programs will bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines, journalists, and others to explore the legal problem of lies and deception from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of contexts. 

Read the Lies and the Law blog.

Learn more about the Lies and the Law event series

Watch: The making of the Lies and the Law art series with Piotr Szyhalski

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