Government propaganda-the government's deliberate dissemination of false claims on matters of public interest-has increasingly become a source of concern in the United States. Not only does the current presidential administration disseminate propaganda at a rate unprecedented in the modern era, so that Americans now live in an age of government-created "alternative facts," but the internet and social media have made it possible to find receptive audiences with alarming speed and accuracy. This surge of government propaganda poses troubling questions for the health of our democracy, which requires political accountability and the valid consent of the governed to thrive.
Although the crucial role that speech plays in our democratic self-rule is a major reason it merits First Amendment protection, the Free Speech Clause as currently interpreted has no part to play in combating government propaganda. Under the government speech doctrine, the Free Speech Clause does not apply to government speech, including government propaganda. It is time to revisit that conclusion.
This Article argues that government propaganda, although government speech, ought to be regarded as covered by, and in violation of the Free Speech Clause. Admittedly, this proposal is radical for two reasons. First, with few exceptions, the free speech tradition in the United States is averse to regulating harmful speech. Such regulations are believed to invite government abuse and to chill private speech. However, neither of these concerns are triggered when the government is the object rather than the enforcer of speech regulations. The second radical aspect of this proposal is bringing government speech into the purview of the Free Speech Clause. Nevertheless, government propaganda sufficiently undermines the core goals of free speech such that the Free Speech Clause ought to address it.
Caroline Mala Corbin, The Unconstitutionality of Government Propaganda, 81 Ohio St. L.J 815 (2020).