Can Defamation Litigation Help Break the Fever of Misinformation?

In my entire adult life I have never seen so many people at one time fall for the most transparent and dangerous of lies. Yes, I’m talking about QAnon. I’m also talking about “stop the steal.” I could also talk about a host of other lies (remember when “hands up, don’t shoot” helped trigger violence in cities across America?) It’s as if our culture’s very ability to discern truth is breaking, and—as we saw on January 6—the consequences are already catastrophic.

In fact, as I speak and write about American division and polarization, one of the single most common questions I receive is simple and heartfelt—“How do I reach friends and family members deceived by lies?” Parts of Washington may want to move on to old-fashioned fights about policy, but millions of families are still dealing with the existential anguish of believing that America is over and that democracy is dead.

The challenge is so great that I agree with Slate’s Will Saletan: The most important battle in American politics isn’t between right and left, but between truth and lies. Earlier this week, he wrote a powerful piece reflecting on the Trump years. It began with this paragraph:

Over the years, I’ve bounced around the political spectrum. I was liberal in Texas, more conservative in college, and now I’m somewhere in the middle. Through it all, I saw politics as a fight between left and right. I don’t see it that way anymore. Donald Trump’s presidency has exposed a bigger threat: an all-out attack on the principle that facts must be respected. We used to take that principle for granted; now we must defend it. Politics has become a fight between those who are willing to respect evidence and those who aren’t.

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