Title: Fake News and the Limits of Freedom of Speech

“Fake news” refers to stories made up out of whole cloth and presented so as to look like legitimate journalism. It has a number of harmful effects. It deceives people into believing falsehoods, sometimes systematically distorting people’s world-view. It leaves many skeptical of news sources in general, lessening people’s ability to acquire accurate information or to place sufficient trust in legitimate news sources. It reinforces group polarization, as extremely partisan stories are more likely to garner clicks and shares. And, these harms are not merely individual; everyone suffers when democratic decision-making is undermined by wide-scale deception and distrust. Given the harm that fake news creates, what should we do about it?  The question I consider in this talk is, “Would it be in principle morally unacceptable to censor fake news?” Or to put it more precisely, “Would censoring fake news face the same sort of objections that are typically put forward against censoring speech generally?” I argue that the answer to this question is “no,” because fake news does not have the characteristics of speech—described in arguments by philosophers and legal scholars such as Mill, Scanlon, Raz, Meiklejohn, and Post—that make it worthy of special protection. In this way fake news serves as a case study, allowing us to clarify the unique value of speech amongst our liberties.

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