Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of Liar in a Crowded Theater

Liar in a Crowded Theater

Freedom of Speech in a World of Misinformation

Jeff Kosseff

Publication Date
Binding Type

Thanks to the First Amendment, Americans enjoy a rare privilege: the constitutional right to lie. And although controversial, they should continue to enjoy this right.

When commentators and politicians discuss misinformation, they often repeat five words: "fire in a crowded theater." Though governments can, if they choose, attempt to ban harmful lies, propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation, how effective will their efforts really be? Can they punish someone for yelling "fire" in a crowded theater—and would those lies then have any less impact? How do governments around the world respond...

Thanks to the First Amendment, Americans enjoy a rare privilege: the constitutional right to lie. And although controversial, they should continue to enjoy this right.

When commentators and politicians discuss misinformation, they often repeat five words: "fire in a crowded theater." Though governments can, if they choose, attempt to ban harmful lies, propaganda, misinformation, and disinformation, how effective will their efforts really be? Can they punish someone for yelling "fire" in a crowded theater—and would those lies then have any less impact? How do governments around the world respond to the spread of misinformation, and when should the US government protect the free speech of liars?

In Liar in a Crowded Theater, law professor Jeff Kosseff addresses the pervasiveness of lies, the legal protections they enjoy, the harm they cause, and how to combat them. From the COVID-19 pandemic to the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections and the January 6, 2021, insurrection on the Capitol building, Kosseff argues that even though lies can inflict huge damage, US law should continue to protect them. Liar in a Crowded Theater explores both the history of protected falsehoods and where to go from here.

Drawing on years of research and thousands of pages of court documents in dozens of cases—from Alexander Hamilton's enduring defense of free speech to Eminem's victory in a lawsuit claiming that he stretched the truth in a 1999 song—Kosseff illustrates not only why courts are reluctant to be the arbiters of truth but also why they're uniquely unsuited to that role. Rather than resorting to regulating speech and fining or jailing speakers, he proposes solutions that focus on minimizing the harms of misinformation. If we want to seriously address concerns about misinformation and other false speech, we must finally exit the crowded theater.

Reviews

Reviews

One of the best books about free speech ever written.

A useful guide to thinking about a complex issue.

Part historical retelling of First Amendment jurisprudence, part road map for policymakers, the book notes areas where the courts have in fact narrowly carved out First Amendment protections for false speech.

[Kosseff] makes the case that the courts have improved our country by gradually strengthening legal protections for false speech—a principle that should hold even though new technologies are changing how information looks, is created, and flows.

Kosseff, a professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy, urges caution. He doesn't deny that technology can amplify lies, and that lies—whether deliberately engineered or not—can be dangerous....But he points to 'the unintended consequences of giving the government more censorial power.'

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6.125
x
9.25
Pages
368
ISBN
9781421447322
Table of Contents

Note to the Reader
Introduction
Part I. Why the Law Protects Falsehoods
Chapter 1. Marketplace
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Sunlight
Chapter 4. Truth
Chapter 5. Uncertainty
Chapter 6. Opinion
Chapter 7

Note to the Reader
Introduction
Part I. Why the Law Protects Falsehoods
Chapter 1. Marketplace
Chapter 2. Democracy
Chapter 3. Sunlight
Chapter 4. Truth
Chapter 5. Uncertainty
Chapter 6. Opinion
Chapter 7. Responsibility
Chapter 8. Efficacy
Part II. Regulating Falsehoods?
Chapter 9. The Scope of the Problem
Chapter 10. When Regulation or Liability Is Not the Answer
Chapter 11. When Regulation or Liability Might Be an Answer
Part III. Empowering Rationality
Chapter 12. Counterspeech and Self-Help
Chapter 13. Intermediaries
Chapter 14. Accountability
Chapter 15. Demand
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Jeff Kosseff
Featured Contributor

Jeff Kosseff

Jeff Kosseff (ARLINGTON, VA) is an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the United States Naval Academy.