Yale Talk: Conversations with Peter Salovey Episode 21: The First Amendment in the Information Age Peter Salovey: Hello, everyone, I’m Peter Salovey, and thank you for joining me for Yale Talk. The spread of inaccurate information online is a major problem for many reasons, but it has emerged as particularly challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. Back in April 2020, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres spoke about “a dangerous epidemic of misinformation.” Such concerns have only grown with the rise of the more contagious Delta variant. And in his very first advisory as U.S. surgeongeneral, Dr. Vivek Murthy wrote about the danger posed by “health misinformation,” much of it spreading through social media. So, my guests today address these issues from the perspective of the law—specifically, the intersection of law, information, and technology. Jack Balkin is the Knight Professor of Constitutional Law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School. He is the founder and director of Yale’s Information Society Project, an interdisciplinary center that studies law and new information technologies. He also directs the Abrams Institute for Freedom of Expression and the Knight Law and Media Program at Yale. My other guest is Robert Post, Sterling Professor of Law, former dean of the law school, and a worldrenowned First Amendment expert. Robert is a member of Facebook’s Oversight Trust, which is charged with “helping Facebook answer some of the most difficult questions around freedom of expression online: what to take down, what to leave up, and why.” So, Jack and Robert, thank you very much for joining me today. Let’s start with the social media landscape. So according to the Pew Research Center, over 70 percent of Americans use some type of social media, and about half of American adults say they get their news from social media, that social media is their primary news site. What are we to make of these trends, and are there special issues that social media raises in terms of how our democracy works, how the First Amendment works? Robert, maybe as a former dean, you are the person we should start with. Robert Post: Thank you, Peter. So to understand, I think, the special issues caused by social media, we have to understand that there are really two distinct factors at play. The first is the creation of a new medium of communication—the Internet, which didn’t exist 30 years ago. And the Internet has some properties which make it different than any previous system of communication. The first is that it has virtually zero marginal information cost. So a statement that might have been harmless when made in Hyde Park is very different on the Internet because of the rapidity with which it’s disseminated and because of the numbers of people that will see it. A second issue caused by marginal zero marginal information cost is that the Internet has undercut traditional forms of social authority. That’s particularly important for misinformation about COVID. When the printing press was developed in the 16th and 17th centuries, it undercut traditional forms of authority. In Catholic doctrine, you could not read the Gospel directly. You had to go through your priest. Once the Bible became printed and everyone could read it, they could read the Gospel for themselves, and so the authority of the church was undermined, and you had the Reformation and two centuries of disorder because social authority was undermined by the spread of information. The Internet has the same thing. If you go to your doctor’s office, sometimes you’ll see a sign that says, “your Google search is not equivalent to my M.D. degree.” But everyone thinks they know everything because they can have access to the information, and a world without social authority is a very different sort of world. There are many other properties we could talk about the Internet. But to speak very quickly, social media are forms of interaction which didn’t exist before the Internet, another of whose properties is that it’s interactive. This creates forms of social solidarities, which are new. This creates forms of attention grabbing, which are new. This creates forms of life online, which didn’t exist 30 years ago. So we’re dealing with an entirely new media environment, which we don’t really understand and which causes, quite justly, great forms of apprehension. Peter Salovey: Just to stay with your comments for a minute, let’s imagine the marginal costs of spreading information thro

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