American democracy is in trouble. According to Freedom House, “the United States’ aggregate Freedom in the World score has declined by 11 points,” from 94 to 83, between 2010 and 2020. The Economist downgraded the United States from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” in 2016. Leading scholars who have studied democratic decay in other countries warn that “the guardrails of American democracy are weakening.”

Several factors have contributed to the erosion of democratic norms and institutions in the United States. The electronic amplification of lies and misinformation is a major contributing factor. The term “electronic amplification,” as used here, refers to a variety of technologies—including radio, broadcast television, cable television, social media, blogs, and podcasts—that enable speakers to deliver their messages to large audiences almost instantaneously.

This essay builds on the work of other scholars who have explained how electronic amplification of lies and misinformation is eroding the quality of democratic governance in the United States and elsewhere. Instead of diagnosing the problem, my goal here is to sketch the outlines of a possible legislative solution. The proposal developed here is intentionally provocative. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but I do want to stimulate a conversation that I think is vitally important for the future of American democracy.

Included in

Law Commons