Abstract: This article will consider the approach taken in different jurisdictions to the use of restrictions, including criminal law prohibitions, to prevent, deter or suppress the making of false political claims online, especially (but not solely) during election periods. The article will explain, first, how a commitment to freedom of expression ought to make state measures to deter the online dissemination of what the author calls false political “viewpoint” information seem problematic. Second, the article will show how a number of jurisdictions, including some liberal democracies, have wrongly been drawn to provide an authoritarian response to the spread of such false information: a response that tries to set the terms on which people come to give and form political viewpoints. Coercion may legitimately be employed (1) to secure due process at the polls, when this is threatened by the dissemination of what the author calls false “participation” information and (2) to support transparency about authorship to a limited extent; but coercion should not be used to deter the propagation of political viewpoint content, simply on the grounds of its falsity.
Keywords: free speech; internet platforms; militant democracy; false political claims; disinformation; intentionally disseminated false information; coercion; electoral influence
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