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Ask Slashdot: Is Deliberately Misleading People On the Internet Free Speech? 503

Slashdot reader dryriver writes: Before anyone cries "free speech must always be free," let me qualify the question. Under a myriad of different internet sites and blogs are these click-through adverts that promise quick "miracle cures" for everything from toenail fungus to hair loss to tinnitus to age-related skin wrinkles to cancer. A lot of the ads begin with copy that reads "This one weird trick cures....." Most of the "cures" on offer are complete and utter crap designed to lift a few dollars from the credit cards of hundreds of thousands of gullible internet users. The IQ boosting pills that supposedly give you "amazing mental focus after just 2 weeks" don't work at all. Neither do any of the anti-ageing or anti-wrinkle creams, regardless of which "miracle berry" extract they put in them this year. And if you try to cure your cancer with an Internet remedy rather than seeing a doctor, you may actually wind up dead.

So the question -- is peddling this stuff online really "free speech"? You are promising something grandiose in exchange for hard cash that you know doesn't deliver any benefits at all.

Long-time Slashdot reader apraetor counters, "But how do you determine what is 'true'?" And Slashdot reader ToTheStars argues "It's already established that making claims about medicine is subject to scrutiny by the FDA (or the relevant authority in your jurisdiction)." But are other things the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre? Leave your best thoughts in the comments. Is deliberately misleading people on the internet free speech?
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Ask Slashdot: Is Deliberately Misleading People On the Internet Free Speech?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 08, 2017 @11:41PM (#55333671)

    Making it a free speech issue is taking it too far, it's always really just been about whether it's false advertising / fair trade / fraud / etc. We already have a lot of laws that govern what businesses can and cannot say to customers in their efforts to sell them things. None of them are free speech violations, they're consumer protection limits. Enforcement is the real problem.

    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @12:09AM (#55333795)

      Exactly. This is an old problem that was, at least legally, largely solved decades and centuries ago. Slapping “on the Internet” on the description doesn’t change the fundamental issue or make it a new problem.

      It’s like when we have to explain that a patent is lousy because all they did was slap “on a computer” onto an idea that’s been around for our entire lives. Fraud is fraud. False advertising is false advertising. Whether it’s on the Internet or not really shouldn’t make a lick of difference.

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @12:22AM (#55333845)
        "on the internet" matters when it's an issue of Bob lying to sell a widget on Amazon. If Bob was in a store selling widgets, the fraud is clear. If Bob is effectively anonymous and Amazon is the seller, with Bob's referral code, once the product arrives and the fraud is detected, taking action against Bob is almost impossible.

        It's not about "legal" but "enforceable". They are different, but related.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          In that case Amazon is responsible. Amazon must police the products sold via its web site. In the past they have banned "hoverboards" due to exploding batteries and solar eclipse glasses due to inadequate protection.

          • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
            The solar eclipse glasses example is particularly interesting. Apparently Amazon did realise that they had a bunch of sellars that were being "less than honest" about their glasses and tried to initiate a recall of any already shipped products - or at least prevent people from using potentially hazardous products. Unfortunately for Amazon there were a number of issues in this; firstly, they managed to sweep up some highly regarded and almost certainly 100% safe products from reputable vendors in their "re
            • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

              They did the same thing with the hoverboards, recalled them all and destroyed all stock, even though some were fine.

              In the UK the law is that the seller is responsible. In cases where Amazon is just "fulfilling" the order for someone else, they are still responsible because they handle the payment, they handle returns and they handle warranty issues. Any reasonable judge is going to consider them to be the seller, and they rarely bother to turn up to Small Claims Court for anything less than £10

    • Making it a free speech issue is taking it too far, it's always really just been about whether it's false advertising / fair trade / fraud / etc.

      You make an interesting point. If we're going to pretend we're some free, market-based society, then there have to be consequences for deliberately misleading people on the internet. Since markets can only exist within some regulatory framework (even if that regulatory framework consists only of the person committing fraud getting his ass kicked), then of course

    • by mvdwege ( 243851 ) <> on Monday October 09, 2017 @02:40AM (#55334177) Homepage Journal

      Actually, laws against false adevertising are a free speech violation. That's because those laws were made in the realisation that no right can be absolute, that in any society there will always be rights that clash, and that the right to make a buck does not extend to lying to impact someone else's health and property.

      It is people who actually want their speech to be privileged, or immature teenagers, who think that free speech is absolute, without actually checking their facts. It has always been subject to prescribed limits, all society is is haggling over the price.

      • Actually, laws against false adevertising are a free speech violation. That's because those laws were made in the realisation that it is in the interest of big corporations and politicians to be able to restrain the speech of competitors and citizens whenever they feel like it

        There, FTFY

        It is people who actually want their speech to be privileged, or immature teenagers, who think that free speech is absolute, without actually checking their facts.

        Ah, you are making the favorite argument of totalitarians. G

      • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

        This is the typical slippery slope argument made by people who want to censor speech in order to benefit their own for the opportunity to spread their own lies without fear of contest.

    • by Kiuas ( 1084567 )

      Making it a free speech issue is taking it too far, it's always really just been about whether it's false advertising / fair trade / fraud / etc. We already have a lot of laws that govern what businesses can and cannot say to customers in their efforts to sell them things

      You're right of course. The problem we're facing now is that one of those 'things' corporations are selling to targeted audiences via social media is news and 'news' (ie. propaganda). Anyone can pay facebook & al to promote their views

    • I think the big problem is with the internet people’s natural sarcasm is being misinterpreted.
      I remember Stephen Colbert being invited to talk in a republican conference because the sponsor of it didn’t realize that he was playing an act, and trying to be the most extreme republican news anchor as possible to try to show how crazy some of these ideas are.
      Also the rise in flat Earthers probably came from some sarcastic comment showing how just dumping scientific sounding words can explain things

      • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

        The most amazing conspiracy theory I have come across is those that think SpaceX's landings of rockets are faked. I mean for fucks sake wait for the next landing at Cape Canaveral and go and watch it for yourself. Thousands of people have now probably watched a Falcon9 landing with their own eyes, but hey.

        • Thousands of people have now probably watched a Falcon9 landing with their own eyes

          Probably more like hundreds of thousands.

  • Is it legal? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by UBfusion ( 1303959 )

    I'm taking the conservative approach: If it's legal it's free speech. Otherwise the advertisers wouldn't risk posting said info.

    I can't accept that "if it's free speech it's legal" approach. Otherwise speech promoting violence and hatred would be legal.

    • There are kinds of deception that are illegal, fraud & perjury both come to mind quickly. Making false medical claims can also run afoul of the FDA rules.

      This is the kind of thing that depends on the circumstances of whatever is going on, not on merely whether or not someone said something that isn't true on the internet. Commercial speech, in particular, has more restrictions than other kinds, so there isn't just one answer that can sum up every case, you'd have to go through the law to see what does

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      All speech should be legal, full stop. Free speech should always be an absolute right. The consequences of that speech should be what is punished, not the speech itself. The whole "shouting fire" thing is actually 100% legal in and of itself. Doing so and causing a stampede that results in serious injuries? Punish for the panic and injuries, not the shouting.

      "Hate speech" is a bullshit term used to mean "speech I find unsavory" and therefore should not hold any weight.
      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        "Hate speech" is a bullshit term used to mean "speech I find unsavory" and therefore should not hold any weight.

        Hate speech is also used to silence people. So enjoy the slippery slop we're now seeing in Canada. The Liberal Party(federal) pushed M103 through. That motion directly pushed a "if you speak up against muslims/engage in islamophobia/etc" it's very very bad. 7mo later, those same people who said "it won't impact free speech" are now pushing blasphemy laws to protect islam from criticism in any form and using m103 as the basis of it.

        There were multiple attempts by the conservative party to get it reworded

        • by berj ( 754323 )

          Trying to pass blasphemy laws? Shit son. Canada has had a law against blasphemy since 1892. And just this year the liberal govt has put forth bill C-51 which will act to repeal that law. But don't let that get in the way of a good screed.

          Hopefully those who read your post will actually look to find out what M103 actually is and what it actually says rather than believing the garbage you wrote.

          • by Calydor ( 739835 )

            Blasphemy laws are slowly changing the world over so you can speak out against any religion*.

            *Islam not included.

    • I'm taking the conservative approach: If it's legal it's free speech. Otherwise the advertisers wouldn't risk posting said info.

      That's a very poor moral framework, and cedes too much power to the legal system. Legal does not equal moral and vice versa. I agree with the point you're making, but I believe putting morality subsequent to "legal" or "free" is one way we get into trouble.

    • Re:Is it legal? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rossz ( 67331 ) <`ogre' `at' `'> on Monday October 09, 2017 @01:18AM (#55333999) Homepage Journal

      Actually, hate speech is free speech. Of course, there is no requirement that people listen to the speech.

      The violence one is a bit tricky since far too many people are now equating disagreement with violence (words hurt campaign).

  • There can be no generalized answer to this question. Any particular case would have to be decided on its merits. As mentioned, the FDA could punish them for making unsupported claims about a cure. The FTC could come after them for false advertising. But in any case, "on the internet" has absolutely nothing to do with it. There are no special rules for any of this stuff that apply only to the internet.

  • Yes, it's free speech, just as it's free speech to deliberately mislead people in print or when speaking. But just as with in-print or speaking, deliberately making false statements opens you to the backlash when you're fact-checked and proven to be knowingly lying to people, along with the possibility of being sued for libel or slander (since you're talking about deliberate untruths, the public-figure exception will be exceptionally hard to hide behind).

    • Yes, we've had fake ads and other false statements since print began..

      I think the better question is: is lying still considered free speech in America?

      I believe it's a resolute 'yes' unless someone can sue another successfully, then it stops.

      So you can say whatever you want until it's decided what you're saying isn't allowed.

    • Fraud is an exception to free speech, and that's what these products are doing.
      • Fraud is not an exception to free speech.
        ,br> Tricking you into giving me money in a fraudulent matter is a property crime. The property being the money. It is not a speech crime.
  • tradeoffs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by supernova87a ( 532540 ) <.kepler1. .at.> on Sunday October 08, 2017 @11:54PM (#55333727)
    The new problem is this:

    For most of the past, free speech has come with the practical limitation that the person making the speech was associated to it, and had some burden of personal accountability. So, whether out of shame, counter-arguments, not being able to hide behind a fictitious agent, etc., people making demonstrably false statements would have limits to the quantity and quality of their speech. And, by the way, people's gullibility of it.

    Now we have this new channel where everyone, including fake names and anonymous agents, are equal. In your Facebook feed, everyone has an equal voice, which contrary to some people's original idea of the internet, doesn't now make it possible for the best and most thoughtful opinions to be spread, but rather the worst. And not everyone is smart enough to tell the difference, or even has the time.

    Newspapers, journalists, universities, governments, etc. previously served the role as our filter of what was "high quality". For good and bad, of course, because they're not always right.

    But now we took off the filter. How do we get some of it back without taking away the parts we like?
    • Re:tradeoffs (Score:5, Insightful)

      by I75BJC ( 4590021 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @12:02AM (#55333767)
      Please read history. Political change has, many times, started with anonymous speech. For example, without anonymous speech there would have been no rebellion in the American Colonies of Great Britain. Because many of the political tracts were published without attribution, the Crown could not find all the authors and punish them. The shear number of anonymous authors and means of publication is one of the reasons that the Colonies were united in their rebellion against Britain and successful in their Revolution. Simply stated, No Anonymity; No USA.
    • After the Revolutionary War, there was a debate on the proposed new constitution. Many of the essays that we now cherish as The Federalist Papers and The Anti-Federalist Papers were published anonymously. In some cases, we still don't know who wrote them.

  • by poity ( 465672 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @11:55PM (#55333735)

    Freedom leads to mistakes in the short term; critical thought and independence in the long term.

    Censorship leads to safety in the short term; naivete and dependence in the long term.

    • Freedom leads to mistakes in the short term; critical thought and independence in the long term.

      Censorship leads to safety in the short term; naivete and dependence in the long term.

      Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. It never has.

      • Freedom leads to mistakes in the short term; critical thought and independence in the long term.

        Censorship leads to safety in the short term; naivete and dependence in the long term.

        Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences. It never has.

        It means freedom from government consequences. It always has.

        If the state can persecute you for "false speech", then it's not free anymore.

    • Well said. Sadly this seems to be entirely lost on people today, particularly the far left, as they clamor for speech restrictions. What's worse, they don't even seem to realize that if they got their wish today, it's not them who would be defining what hate speech was, it would be Trump and the Republicans, who would attack *their* speech. That alone should demonstrate to someone why allowing censorship under the guise of hate speech is a terrible idea.
    • by mvdwege ( 243851 )

      It's not the average German who is naÃve about restriction on Nazi propaganda. But it does appear that the average alt-right fanboi who is all about freeze peach is

    • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @11:46AM (#55336007)

      Actually, I can observe the exact opposite.

      In the US (and other areas where information is free and available), I can see an incredible naivete, the willingness to believe any kind of bullshit offered, believed with zero evidence and even against unsurmountable evidence against it.

      Yet I do know countries with a tight restriction and control of information where people respond warily to anything you present to them and will critically test it for validity, desperate to actually find out what IS true.

  • Speech as in âoetry this miracle cure, put hot sauce in your eyes to make you see betterâ is free speech.

    A sale as in âoetry this miracle cure, itâ(TM)s $25 hot sauce you can put in your eyesâ is a sales contract. You promise a cure and you either deliver or you donâ(TM)t. If you donâ(TM)t, itâ(TM)s called swindling, false advertising and a number of other things.

    You can say you have a miracle cure but when you exchange goods youâ(TM)re entering a legal contract.

  • While in Russia, there was a different metric for free speech than I've seen in the United States. My Thai friends also see differences in Thailand. I see additional differences against conservative viewpoints in Western Europe, and Canada.

    Which country are you using as the metric for "Free Speech?" You mention the FDA, so I assume you mean an American viewpoint, but that should likely be explicitly stated, rather than implied.

    • by rossz ( 67331 )

      The Soviet Union's constitution guaranteed free speech, be did not allow propaganda. Since the soviet government was the sole arbitrator of what constituted propaganda, the guarantee of free speech was meaningless.

  • Money (Score:5, Informative)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Sunday October 08, 2017 @11:56PM (#55333749) Journal

    Once money is involved, it's no longer free speech, it becomes "commercial speech."

    Commercial speech operates under a different set of rules, with significantly more restrictions.
    "False or misleading" commercial speech is explicitly against the law.

    There is some wiggle room for "puffery" (world's best hamburger.)
    There is also some wiggle room as long as warnings or disclaimers are included.

    Some warnings and disclaimers are what we'd call "compelled speech," because the government requires businesses to say them.
    Compelled speech is pretty much the opposite of free speech.

  • by gravewax ( 4772409 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @12:06AM (#55333781)
    Ad's do not fall under free speech protection (at least in most countries). Most countries have legal frameworks for what is and is not acceptable advertising. For instance here in Australia most of those Ads are actually completely illegal as they fall under false advertising... good luck pursuing them on that though given most are not based in country.
  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @12:07AM (#55333785) Journal

    isn't free speech, neither is deliberately misleading speech.

    Let's face it, half of all people are of below average intelligence and those people are more likely to be fooled. It's BAD ENOUGH when there are "News" institutions whose adherence to proper journalistic standards (like vetting commentators and sources and getting independent confirmation) is weak.

    It's DOWN RIGHT CRIMINAL when people (or governments! Russia I'm talking to you) deliberately mislead people for their own purposes. Those easily fooled people can be swayed into doing all sorts of things that are not in the public (or their own) self interest.

    Short of genetic engineering (don't worry, that's my field, I'm working on it!), we're not going to be raising the average IQ of people very quickly. (And as far as getting more than half of all people to be better than average, you'd better talk to your local mathematician). However, what we COULD do is provide a better, BASIC education for all citizens which would be the first line of defense against unfounded, unverified claims. An ability to use critical thinking (perhaps with a dose of basic economics and science for living in this commercial technological age) should be a prerequisite for living in this modern world, too bad it would be politically impossible to make it a requirement for voting.

    I have heard that the real downfall of American democracy began (sorry to say) with Reagan. Even though it can be claimed that some of his ideas were good and he was inspiring to millions, his de-regulation of the economy unfortunately (from what I have heard, I was too young to understand) extended to education.

    His, "let competition reign" philosophy broke the covenant of the American educational system so that (again, from what I understand), schools became increasingly dependent on their local circumstances. Hence, schools in rich districts could hire good teachers and had good facilities whereas schools in poor and rural districts fell farther and farther behind (not that they were equal in the first place). In this way, the (I think) nationwide premise that all Americans be given a good basic education was shattered; this has resulted in the paradox of Americans leading the world in science and technology and Nobel prizes (with a healthy influx of immigrants of course) yet with abysmal high school graduation rates and scores when compared to other wealthy nations.

    Unfortunately, I don't see an easy way out; as this last year has proven the "moron" (not my words, the Secretary of State said it!) having been elected by the under educated bottom half, is running the show. He (and they) will continue to put into place policies that will further widen the divide between the educated and the poorly educated; between the professional class and between people who don't understand the scientific principle. I'm not quite sure where this will end up; the educated "elite" (when did being "the best" become a dirty word?) still retains power and money but it is unclear if the under educated will ever be able to see past the lies the leaders they elected tell them. Even then, it'll likely take a generation to rebuild the damage the Reagan revolution has done and truly rebuild an America that is restored equal opportunity THROUGH EDUCATION to all.

    Then again, as a Republican Senator just said, our duly elected leader might trigger "World War III". Well in that case, we won't even have to wait for climate change to do us in, I guess our civilization and maybe even species just wasn't meant to last.

    • Nobody who starts with the fire in a crowded theater trope has anything intelligent to say about free speech. It's dicta from a case with a terrible ruling (it comes from a case where it was ruled illegal to distribute fliers criticizing a war) and subsequent rulings have overturned that case and made the idea behind it exceedingly narrow in scope and likely unenforceable today.
  • Are our USA school systems so crappy that students and graduates don't understand what Free Speech means? The OP doesn't seem to know the distinction between Commercial Speech and Political Speech. Commercial Speech is highly regulated while Political Speech is highly unregulated. All the Governments in the USA strictly regulate Commercial Speech and no one thinks much of that practice. Even the Supreme Court agrees. Surprisingly, the OP is ignorant of this fact. (Which I initially learned about in th
    • Agree, lying to authorities and/or lying to consumers is a crime in the developed world, it has nothing to do with "free speech".
  • This question makes me sick

    Americans sure have given up on freedom.

  • since language was invented. Perhaps before.

  • Before asking a question about free-speech on the internet, always take the internet out of the question.

    Is yelling fire in a crowded space protected by free speech? No. Clearly, and we know why.

    Is standing on a street corner telling people that the sky is falling protected speech? Yes, I think so. Please tell me if you disagree.

    The thing is we know a lot about the person standing on the street corner spewing lies, but ironically - on the internet we often don't know much about the person feeding us fa

  • We have ample evidence that regulatory agencies can be manipulated by political pressure / lobbying. Let's say the FDA becomes the final arbiter of what is "real treatment". If someone were to discover a simple and inexpensive cure for depression - to what lengths would the Pharmaceutical industry go to get it labeled "fake" and preserve their $14.5 billion industry?
    Do we really want to be prevented from ever making a mistake in judgement? In this post-modern society who are you willing to trust to define

  • Making false statements [] is against the law in the United States, it is not protected speech. Freedom of speech (originally freedom of the press) is meant to protect the freedom to express opinions, especially unpopular ones, or opinions contrary to government doctrine. The Constitution has never attempted to protect lying.

  • The United States has maintained a propaganda "news service" since 1942, broadcast in dozens of languages around the world. Before American Exceptionalists want to whine about what they pretend other countries are doing - there's as much evidence to support that Russia did buttkiss last year as there is that Bill Clinton sent a hitman after Vince Foster - maybe you should cease the hypocrisy first?

  • As other posters have noted, take "The Internet" out of it. People are still in thrall of the digital sophistication of the Internet, though those of us in the technology business know how easy it is for anyone to put up a website and post what they want. It gives everyone a printing press, and most of those digital tabloids are worse than the Weekly World News, i.e. they are not merely idiotic, but also uninteresting.

    People who believe Alex Jones are also the sort who would believe the Weekly World News.

  • It is very simple and well established. You are allowed to lie for your own reasons however and whenever you wish. (and accept the social consequences of such behaviour) Except in a few well defined circumstances. The most common one being any time money is changing hands. If you come up with some hokum product that you claim increases penis size (a perennial favourite of the scammers), you can tell people you have done so. But if you tell me it works in order to sell it to me, that's fraud. If you are a do
  • The WHOLE point of free speech is that you can say whatever the fuck you want -- and people can't censor you for that.

    Whether it is _actually_ true or not, is beside the point.

    Now this may be slander, but that is a different issue.

  • "If you like your health-care plan, you’ll be able to keep your health-care plan, period." President Obama, speech to the American Medical Association, June 15, 2009

  • That is what the term slander (spoken) and libel (anything besides spoken) mean.

    Also, free speech only means the government can't interfere with you saying something as long as it is not defamatory or recklessly endangering people's lives (shouting fire in a crowded room)

    It does not mean:
    1) Companies refusing to help you publish something.
    2) People refusing to listen/obey you.
    3) Refusing to pay taxes or otherwise refuse to abide by general government rules that are not targeted at your free speech. But th

  • The FTC has jurisdiction over this stuff. In general the FTC hasn't been as aggressive in pursuing this sort of thing. Maybe the false advertising part of the FTC could be broken out and made into its own agency?

    It could be the equivalent of Britain's ASA, but run by the government and with actual power to levy fines etc.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @01:01AM (#55333945) Homepage Journal

    ... then in effect are asking for a definition of "free speech" after the fact. Logically, this doesn't make much sense. However, if you *do* start from the axiom "free speech is good" you need to either find or construct a definition that is consistent with that axiom. In the meantime assuming that axiom does allow you to examine whether individual cases can be covered as "free speech".

    If you start with the axiom that free speech is *always* good, then unless you think selling fraudulent medicine is good then your definition of "free speech" needs to exclude that.

    If you start with the axiom that free speech is only *sometimes* good, then your definition can encompass selling fraudulent medicine; however that also raises the possibility that you should *sometimes* oppose free speech.

    There are some people who clearly believe that free speech entails complete freedom from legal consequences -- including for libel, or deliberate misinformation that predictably harms or even kills someone. However I suspect there's an element of sloppy thinking there. We've all been raised to regard "free speech" as inviolable, so adopting a broader concept of "free speech" is a handy way of sneaking other things into the tent.

  • The legality of shouting "fire!" in a theatre are not as clear as people commonly think. Even the Supreme Court judge who used it in an example walked back his opinion on the subject.

  • []

    Advertising Is Protected by the First Amendment
    The question is often asked: Does the First Amendment protect advertisements? Advertising is indeed protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, advertising or "commercial speech" enjoys somewhat less First Amendment protection from governmental encroachment than other types of speech. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for example, may regulate speech that is found to be "deceptive."

  • But are other things the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre?

    The comparison was first involved to convict a man advocating against America's involvement in the First World War []. His agitation against it was deemed analogous to yelling fire in the crowded theater.

    Obviously, that precedent was undone in the 60-70ies, when being against a war became all the rage.

    Speech is speech. Deal with it.

  • Misinformation and disinformation are 'speech'. 'Free speech' refers to an ideal, which is sometimes enshrined into law to varying degrees. If you're attempting to ask "should disinformation be protected as 'free speech'?" then we have an actual question. It's generally held that deterring/remedying fraud is one of the most valid reasons for the existence of government. The summary questions if fraud should be considered protected under 'free speech'. I'm gonna have to say no. Let's make fraud legal and wat

  • But are other things the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre?

    The "shouting fire in a crowded theater" is a bullshit statement from a bullshit case because of a bullshit law. []

    Holmes used his statement to justify the imprisonment of draft dissenters during world war one in clear contradiction of the first amendment which even he admitted, eventually []. I will say it again, this [] is bad law, and anyone who wants to have a serious discussion about free speak should not utter it in polite company.

    That being said, yeah the quality of advertising and accuracy of advertiser

  • Is deliberately misleading people free speech? Absolutely.

    Is speech whose primary purpose is to solicit a commercial transaction generally accepted as an exception to free speech? Yes.

    Is fraud speech? No, but misleading speech is just one element of fraud.

  • Now all you have to do is come up with enough evidence to get charges brought and a conviction. Plus. You need to figure out who has juristiction. If they were just telling stories or giving out information, that would be free speech. These guys are asking for money under false pretenses, this makes it fraud.
  • It's the same standard from what I can tell. If you are free to make incorrect statements in journal submissions, you should be free to make them in Internet posts. It's the same principle. Both are vetted through a review by the peers of the poster. Both are susceptible to clusterfuck. It's as free as speech gets. Anything attempt to regulate it makes speech less free and increases instances of regulators' priorities leaking into the information stream to drive an agenda.
  • Yes people are free to say absurd and evil things. That in no way implies that they can not be severely punished for those lies. For example spouting nonsense about Obama not being an American citizen should have resulted in severe fines and long stays in prisons. The sad truth i that so many Americans are criminals that we have no way to afford arresting and convicting millions more even when their crimes are blatant and revealed to all the public. We still have idiots insisting that Hillary is g
  • Not normally. But it is if any of the following apply:
    - Elon Musk says it.
    - It uses blockchains.

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Monday October 09, 2017 @03:41AM (#55334299)
    You're presuming that truth = good, falsehood = bad.

    Telling the truth can be bad. Lying can be good. Say you're at a mini-mart and an upset woman runs up to you saying her husband is trying to kill her, then runs into the bathroom. Then an angry man runs in holding a knife screaming, "where is that bitch, I'm gonna kill her." Do you tell him the truth? Or do you deliberately mislead him by lying, and say she ran out the back door?

    Speaking the truth or lying does not necessarily correlate to good/bad. Your intent in saying what you say does - whether you're trying to help or harm. Unfortunately, intent is something internal to your mind. You can guess what another person's intent probably is, and in rare cases you can eliminate any other possibility and infer their true intent. But most of the time you can't be sure. And basing legality or punishment on something that most of the time you can't be sure of is just setting up your system for all kinds of trouble.

    Take the anti-vaccination movement for example. It's based on statistical error (emphasizing single anecdotes over overall trends) or logical error (believing the testimony of a famous celebrity unskilled in the field over the testimony of a non-famous expert in the field). I would dearly love to ban it from the Internet. But if we set that precedent, what if some time in the future the conspiracy theory becomes true and the government is pacifying the population with mind-altering drugs under the guise of vaccination? Your well-intentioned ban in favor of the truth has then set a precedent allowing a misleading falsehood to be presented as the truth, and the actual truth suppressed.

    The more I think about it, the more strongly I feel that banning is not the answer. Educating the populace is, so most of them will not make the aforementioned errors. Yeah we're never going to convince 100% of the people that vaccines are good. But 99% should be good enough for most purposes. And I really don't think the tradeoff in future potential abuse is worth it just to get that final 1% to comply.

    The fundamental premise behind Democracy is that The People are on average smart enough to usually make the right decision. If you feel we need policies which deprive The People of the right to make those decisions, then you're basically admitting The People aren't smart enough to make the right decision, and thus Democracy doesn't work. (I can actually seen an argument for a benevolent oligarchy being better than democracy. But if you're going to argue for that, then don't even bother with the pretense of pretending to support freedom of speech.)
  • Speech is free if the authorities will not censure the speaker.

    False advertising is sometimes censured, so it is either not free (conservative) or partially free (risky).

    A better question is, should false advertising be free?

  • So the question -- is peddling this stuff online really "free speech"? You are promising something grandiose in exchange for hard cash that you know doesn't deliver any benefits at all.

    That's the wrong question - because any claim that there is ANY subset of speech that is NOT free speech pitches you over the cliff and onto the slippery slope:

    * If there is a non-free subset of speech it's allegedly OK to restrict it.
    * But that opens the can of worms: How - and by whom - is this subset defin

    • But are other things the equivalent of yelling "fire" in a crowded movie theatre?

      Did you know that the "(falsely) cry fire in a crowded theatre" argument was coined by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. - in a Supreme Court opinion (for Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47 (1919)) that it was legal to suppress such speech?

      Did you know the speech in question was printing and distributing pamphlets opposing the draft for WW I?

      Holmes, writing for a unanimous Court, ruled that it was a violation of the Espionag

  • Free speech does not mean that anyone can say anything at anytime. It means that the government cannot suppress some forms of speech sometimes. Some forms of speech are definitely banned like hate speech, incitation to crime, divulgation of intellectual property, and many others. Peddlers of false cures are not protected by free speech but could be brought to justice under the heading of Truth in Advertising. See

The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the `social sciences' is: some do, some don't. -- Ernest Rutherford