On October 13, 2020, New York Times Magazine writer Emily Bazelon published an article titled “The First Amendment in the Age of Disinformation” in which she argued that the country was experiencing an “information crisis” where lies spread faster than truth. Bazelon’s article spoke to a new anxiety about the health of our current public discourse. According to an NPR/Ipsos poll in December 2020, more than 8 out of 10 Americans (83%) say they are concerned about the spread of false information, especially about the coronavirus and vaccines. A separate survey led by PBS NewsHour, NPR, and Marist Poll in January 2020 found that 59 percent of Americans say it is difficult to spot intentionally misleading stories.
Join us on February 10th, at 2 p.m. EST for an hour-long conversation with Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America, and Soraya Ferdman, Staff Writer at First Amendment Watch, on the spread of false information. While the government can’t punish people for publishing “fake news,” journalists and readers can help slow its spread and restore the public’s trust in the news, as we’ll discuss.
The Q&A is part of our #FAWPublicForum event series, a monthly conversation with First Amendment experts on contemporary free speech issues.
Nora Benavidez is the director of U.S. Free Expression Programs, where she guides PEN America’s national advocacy agenda on First Amendment and free expression issues, including the organization’s disinformation defense program. This past year, Benavidez worked closely with local and community news organizations across the country to ensure that people could develop techniques to better identify credible information during various crises, from the pandemic to protests to the unprecedented nature of the 2020 election. Benavidez was an early critic of laws that criminalize “fake news,” and has instead emphasized the role media literacy skills and local news organizations play in defending vulnerable communities from polarization and in bridging across differences.
Benavidez is a lawyer by training and, prior to joining PEN America, she worked in private practice as a civil and human rights litigator in Atlanta, Georgia. She has represented victims of unconstitutional police practices, First Amendment infringements, discrimination in public schools, and voting rights violations. Benavidez graduated from Emory University School of Law and received the Dean’s Public Service Award as well as the Pro Bono Service Medal.
This event has passed but you can watch the discussion in the recording below: