Misinformation Trials

The problem of quickly spreading misinformation is a critical issue of our time. Although we have slander and libel laws protecting entities from injurious and unsubstantiated claims regarding them specifically, we don't have any protections for speech that doesn't injure any particular person but still harms society generally. This is a classic example of the type of wicked externality we discussed in an earlier chapter.


The right to not be defrauded is protected by our system of right's requirement of informed consent, so it's very easy to assert there should be some kind of penalty for creating or spreading misinformation regarding topics material to other's welfare.

However, this is very dangerous ground. Freedom of speech isn't non-interfering, but it's a very important right and usually has a fairly small surface area of interference. Whatever system we land on has to have a few properties:

  • Must be sufficiently democratic that it can't be captured to manipulate politics and culture.
  • Must be tractably enforceable.
  • Must be actually effective at stopping and repairing misinformation.
  • Must be restricted to reasonable compensation.

I propose the following:

  • Misinformation is defined as any speech that makes "broadcasted unsubstantiated material claims". This means the claim must be broadcast in public and not in private, regarding topics that could possibly be substantiated with evidence (one doesn't need to substantiate their opinions, feelings, or philosophies), and must have some potential material effect on others (making the claim that I drink one gallon of water every day is possibly substantiable, but has no material effect on others).
  • At any time, any person can use democratic weights to make an unsubstantiated material claims complaint against any list of entities for any list of claims. This is a civil complaint and uses a standard process of democratic adjudication.
  • Each side registers some "media packet" representing what they believe to be the correct set of claims. Whoever wins the process must use whatever communications resources they originally used to make the claims to broadcast the newly corrected claims but at some multiple the volume of the original claim, decided based on the media used. For example, if unsubstantiated claims were made in letters to some group, the losing party must send a smaller multiple of letters clarifying the incorrect claims and reporting the true claims than if they were to use an essentially free medium like email.
  • The facts decision can be used to expedite future decisions regarding similar claims.

This is similar to existing slander and libel laws, but requires damages in the form of a counterfactual broadcast rather than money. If we're comfortable with a set of laws that also adjudicates the truthfulness of claims, we should be comfortable with another that is strictly more democratic and only requires compensation in the form of more broadcasts.


  • By simply requiring a counterfactual broadcast correcting unsubstantiated claims, the potential injury of losing these cases is small enough not to be draconian.
  • A counterfactual broadcast actually does some work to correct misinformation, since the correct claims are broadcast at many times the strength of the original claims.
  • Gives a way to "break into echo chambers" that doesn't require governmental control or monitoring of broadcast channels.

Potential Objections

  • It is only possible to enforce this system with people or telecommunications networks that operate within national borders. The reaches of the dark web cannot be controlled.
  • Counterfactual broadcasts might become "spammy" enough to be annoying and counterproductive.
  • Could have a chilling effect on speech. I feel this system wouldn't have this problem in practice. Since the trial process is fairly slow compared to normal broadcast, and requires time and effort to make a complaint, I think this system would only be used to stop the most obvious, repeated, and damaging sources of misinformation.

Open Questions

Would such a system work? Would those who are determined to believe false claims be convinced by legally required counterfactual broadcasts? Since the complainant would themselves submit the counterfactual broadcasts, they can design whatever they believe would be most persuasive, but many practical and empirical questions remain.

Table of Contents

In Defense of Pure Logic
Persistent Voting
Quadratic Range Voting
Persistent Documents
Persistent Prioritization
Persistent Endorsement
Persistent Commitments
Persistent Funding
A Theory of Minimum Necessary Rights
Markets and Rights
Common Resource Taxes
The Crowdsell Mechanism and Intellectual Property
Democratic Districts
Free Borders
Persistent Logistics
Democratic Adjudication
Misinformation Trials
Member Cooperatives and Economic Activism
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