In the current media environment, anyone can gain access to a keyboard and an internet connection and state their claim. Debate in the digital age is large and robust. It is also often dishonest and manipulative. Conspiracy theories run rampant, and words are weaponized, particularly against the most visible members of our population: public officials and public figures. Currently, as to public officials, public figures and even lesser-known individuals who thrust themselves into the maelstrom of public events, their ability to collect damages for libel is severely restricted — hence Trump’s demand to “open up” libel laws.
Libel and slander are two forms of defamation: Libel is written, slander is oral. Defamation must be more than hyperbole, parody, or name-calling. It must go to the heart of a person’s reputation in the community and cause actual damage to that person’s reputation.
The history of current laws on defamation is intimately related to the history of the civil rights movement. The Thirteenth Amendment officially ended slavery in the United States, but it did not end discrimination and racism. The transition away from segregation in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly in the southern states, was slow and often violently stalled. Discrimination…Read More
Lynn Greenky is an Associate Teaching Professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Communication and Rhetorical Studies. She teaches a beloved undergraduate course about the First Amendment. She is the author of When Freedom Speaks: The Boundaries and Boundlessness of the First Amendment. You can follow her on Twitter @LGreenky.