Disentangling Disinformation: What Makes Regulating Disinformation So Difficult?

24 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2020

Date Written: January 17, 2020


Since the 2016 U.S. elections, online disinformation has joined hate speech, terrorist incitement, and other forms of “harmful online content” as a key target for corporate and government policy makers. Most major content platforms have developed policies and other approaches for disinformation, while legislative and regulatory proposals specifically designed to address online disinformation have been enacted in consolidated democracies, like France, unconsolidated democracies, like Malaysia, and autocratic states, like Singapore. Meanwhile, several other jurisdictions have begun considering proposals to address disinformation, together with other content issues, through a single, comprehensive regulatory framework. These laws and other similar proposals have sparked considerable debate, with critics focusing primarily on the effects — whether intended or not — that such measures could have on freedom of opinion and expression.

This Essay articulates some of the critical ways in which disinformation differs from other categories of harmful content and explores some of the early efforts by platforms and governments to address the issue. It begins by analyzing the semantics around disinformation, explaining how specific terminology can allude to distinct concerns. It then explores the similarities and differences between disinformation and related categories of harmful content, like hate speech and terrorist incitement, before examining some of the corporate and regulatory initiatives that have emerged. It concludes with some observations and cautionary notes for corporate and governmental policy makers as they consider how best to address disinformation.

Keywords: Disinformation, Freedom of Expression, Technology, Hate Speech, Extremist Content, Intermediary Liability, Content Regulation, Content Moderation

JEL Classification: O33, O38, O35, Z38

Suggested Citation

Pielemeier, Jason S., Disentangling Disinformation: What Makes Regulating Disinformation So Difficult? (January 17, 2020). 2020 Utah L. Review 917, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3629541

Jason S. Pielemeier (Contact Author)

The Global Network Initiative (GNI) ( email )

United States

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