Bad Actors: Authenticity, Inauthenticity, Speech and Capitalism

58 Pages Posted: 3 Oct 2019 Last revised: 22 Nov 2019

See all articles by Sarah C. Haan

Sarah C. Haan

Washington and Lee University - School of Law

Date Written: September 24, 2019


“Authenticity” has evolved into an important “value” that guides social media companies’ regulation of online speech. It is enforced through rules and practices that include real-name policies, Terms of Service requiring users to present only accurate information about themselves, community guidelines that prohibit “coordinated inauthentic behavior,” verification practices, product features, and more. What accounts for the rise of authenticity? This Article critically examines authenticity regulation by the social media industry, including companies’ claims that authenticity is a moral virtue, an expressive value, and a pragmatic necessity. It explains how companies engaged in “information capitalism,” “data capitalism,” and “surveillance capitalism” derive economic value from authenticity regulation. It also explores how a regulatory focus on authenticity shapes our views about objectionable speech, upends traditional commitments to pseudonymous political expression, and encourages collaboration between the State and private companies. The Article concludes that “authenticity,” as conceptualized by the industry, is not an important value on par with privacy or dignity, but that it offers business value and many of the same opportunities for viewpoint discrimination that garden-variety content moderation does.

Keywords: Authenticity, Speech, Free Expression, Social Media, Facebook, Twitter, Verification, First Amendment, Information Capitalism, Data Capitalism, Surveillance Capitalism

JEL Classification: L86

Suggested Citation

Haan, Sarah C., Bad Actors: Authenticity, Inauthenticity, Speech and Capitalism (September 24, 2019). University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, Forthcoming, Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2019-24, Available at SSRN:

Sarah C. Haan (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - School of Law ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

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