The Supreme Court has recognized the central role that free expression plays in our democratic enterprise. In his dissenting opinion in United States v. Abrams, Justice Holmes offered a theory of how free expression advances our search for truth and our cultivation of an informed electorate. That model—often called the “marketplace of ideas,” based upon the metaphor used by Holmes—has proven to be one of the most persistent and influential concepts in First Amendment jurisprudence.
The marketplace of ideas model essentially holds that free expression serves our democratic goals by allowing differing proposed truths and versions of the facts to compete with each other for acceptance. The theory maintains that the best ideas and the most reliable information will emerge and prevail. The well-informed electorate that results from this process will then make better decisions in our participatory democracy.
During the 2016 presidential election, however, it became apparent that a number of statements made by then-candidate Donald Trump proved difficult to rebut in the public dialogue, even though they were clearly and demonstrably false. Of particular concern, some of those statements fed into biases against and stereotypes of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and women. This disinformation stubbornly resisted efforts at correction.
This Article discusses the marketplace of ideas model and its underlying assumptions about how human beings process information and make decisions. It then proceeds to explain, through recent social science research, why the dynamic envisioned by the marketplace of ideas theory often fails to provide an effective counter-narrative to statements that reinforce racial, ethnic, religious, and gender biases and stereotypes. The Article concludes with some necessarily preliminary and exploratory thoughts about potential curative measures.
Leonard M. Niehoff & Deeva Shah,
The Resilience of Noxious Doctrine: The 2016 Election, the Marketplace of Ideas, and the Obstinacy of Bias,
Mich. J. Race & L.
Available at: https://repository.law.umich.edu/mjrl/vol22/iss2/3