This year, Fox News was hit with two major defamation lawsuits alleging that the network repeatedly aired false claims about voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The lawsuits, filed by the voting technology companies Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems, accuse Fox News of intentionally spreading false information about their voting software to curry favor with Donald Trump and his base. Each suit requests more than $1 billion dollars in damages. The lawsuits are part of a larger trend of plaintiffs using libel claims to curb the spread of misinformation: Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell are also facing $1 billion lawsuits for claiming that Dominion’s voting machines were rigged in favor of Joe Biden.
False information spread online plainly has a real impact on people’s lives: journalists have shown how viral misinformation about COVID-19 likely quickened its spread, as well as how disinformation about the voting process was used to discourage thousands of Americans from participating in the 2020 election. However, the impulse to use libel suits to target a news organization has left many First Amendment lawyers uneasy. Defamation suits have historically been used by the powerful to silence their critics. Could this strategy unintentionally make it easier for bad actors to sue journalists?
Join First Amendment Watch on May 19th at 2pm EST for a #FAWPublicForum for a conversation about defamation law, First Amendment doctrine, and the problem of disinformation in our modern age. Our special guests include Lyrissa Lidsky, Dean of the University of Missouri Law School and Judge C.A. Leedy Professor of Law, Jonathan Peters, Media Law Professor at the University of Georgia and press freedom columnist for Columbia Journalism Review, and RonNell Andersen Jones, Lee E. Teitelbaum Professor of Law at University of Utah Law School. First Amendment Watch Staff Writer Soraya Ferdman will moderate the discussion.