As it stands, the First Amendment has little to say about any of these tools and techniques. The mobilization of online vitriol or the dissemination of fake news by private parties or foreign states, even if in coordination with the U.S. government, has been considered a matter of journalistic ethics or foreign policy, not constitutional law. And it has long been assumed (though rarely tested) that the U.S. government’s own use of domestic propaganda is not a contestable First Amendment concern, on the premise that propaganda is “government speech.” The closest thing to a constitutional limit on propagandizing is the premise that the state cannot compel citizens to voice messages on its behalf (under the doctrine of compelled speech) or to engage in patriotic acts like saluting the flag or reciting the pledge of allegiance. But under the existing jurisprudence, it seems that little — other than political norms that are fast eroding — stands in the way of a full-blown campaign designed to manipulate the political speech environment to the advantage of current officeholders.


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