Skip to Main Content

Scholarly Discourse on Political Misinformation: Free Speech

By Yi Ding

Free Speech

In delving into the weaponization of the term fake news, an exploration of the evolving and intricate definitions and connotations of free speech becomes imperative. A notable contribution to this scholarly discourse is found in Campus Misinformation: The Real Threat to Free Speech in American Higher Education, in which Bradford Vivian of Pennsylvania State University elucidates a critical facet of misinformation that has been burgeoning since the mid-2010s. Specifically, Vivian addresses the proliferation of misleading information about higher education in the name of defending free speech and diversity, which he contends paradoxically aims to disseminate political misinformation. Vivian categorizes this as campus misinformation, as demonstrated in criticism of dominant terms in public debates such as diversity, trigger warnings, safe spaces, and orthodoxy. Vivian’s work provides a more accurate and nuanced perspective to these discourses, which he identifies as posing a threat to both academic freedom and democracy.

Within the framework of free speech, Robert Spicer, assistant professor of digital journalism at Millersville University, also examines the legal and ethical dimensions of false political speech in his work Free Speech and False Speech: Political Deception and Its Legal Limits (or Lack Thereof), published in 2018. Additionally, legal scholar Catherine Ross of The George Washington University Law School offers insights into constitutional considerations of false speech by delving into the First Amendment in the context of deceptive speech by political figures in A Right to Lie?: Presidents, Other Liars, and the First Amendment. Her volume contributes to legal discussions on the limitations of free speech in political discourse. This nuanced understanding of free speech is also presented in the 2022 publication The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion, by Zachary Gershberg and Sean Illing. This book explores the challenges posed by persuasive communication in democratic societies, thereby contributing to an understanding of the tensions inherent in balancing free expression against potential manipulation. Similarly, Jeff Kosseff’s Liar in a Crowded Theater: Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation provides insights into the contemporary challenges of misinformation and its intersection with freedom of speech. Collectively, these scholarly works contribute to the ongoing discourse on the complexities surrounding free speech, especially in the context of the weaponization of supposedly fake news.

Works Cited