Turley Warns of 'Reckless and Chilling' Attacks on Free Speech by Regulating Drudge, Other Websites

Jonathan Turley / Getty
October 20, 2017

Jonathan Turley, a noted law professor at George Washington University and a leading liberal voice, has joined conservatives in condemning Democratic efforts to regulate political speech on the internet.

The legal expert is especially concerned about a new proposal to sue readers of websites, such as the Drudge Report and Facebook, who share "disinformation," the Washington Examiner reported Friday.

Turley compared the new regulation plan for internet speech, pushed by former Federal Election Commissioner Ann Ravel, to Russian President Vladimir Putin's strangulation of free speech.

"To combat 'fake news,' Ravel and her co-authors would undermine the use of the Internet as a forum for free speech," Turley wrote of the proposal on Thursday.

"The regulation would include the targeting of people who share stories deemed fake or disinformation by government regulators," Turley continued. "The irony is that such figures are decrying Russian interference with our system and responding by curtailing free speech—something Vladimir Putin would certainly applaud."

Turley warned that the proposal would silence political speech on the web, joining key election law Republicans in opposing the proposal, the Examiner noted.

"In one of the most reckless and chilling attacks on free speech, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Berkeley lecturer Ann Ravel is pushing for a federal crackdown on 'disinformation' on the Internet—a term that she conspicuously fails to concretely define."

Turley said that since 'disinformation' is not clearly defined, the proposal effectively gives bureaucrats the power to label posts as false or fake and go after those who share the information.

Under Ravel's proposal, readers who share "fake news" about candidates from Twitter, Facebook, and even news sources like Drudge and the New York Times could face libel suits.

Ravel and two co-authors—Abby K. Wood, an associate professor at the University of Southern California, and Irina Dykhne, a student at USC Gould School of Law—laid out the proposal in a paper. They wrote that if a social media user "clicks 'share' on a disputed item," the government can "require that the user be reminded of the definition of libel against a public figure."

Libel of public figures requires "actual malice," or knowledge of "falsity or reckless disregard for the truth," Ravel and her co-authors noted, explaining that under their proposal, "sharing an item that has been flagged as untrue might trigger liability under libel laws."