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Jul. 21, 2021

UCI launches center to combat misinformation, promote free elections

Founders Richard L. Hasen and David Kaye said the unfettered growth of digital media and the spread of misinformation made the center’s creation necessary.

UC Irvine School of Law announced Tuesday the opening of a Fair Elections and Free Speech Center.

“The 2020 election showed that our democracy is much more fragile than many people believe, and that the spread of misinformation on social media makes running fair elections quite difficult in a polarized environment,” said UCI law and political science professor Richard L. Hasen.

He and clinical professor of law David Kaye want the center to “help assure that we can have both vibrant free speech and a democratic process that people accept as legitimate,” Hasen said. The center will use a combination of lectures, research and policy work, among other tools, to promote free and fair elections and to combat misinformation, he said.

The center also may get involved with litigation on the global level “looking at the stresses that are placed on fair elections and on free and open debate,” Kaye said.

Hasen and Kaye pointed to digital media and its growth on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. In addition to the spread of misinformation on social media, Hasen said Facebook groups were used to organize and mobilize people in ways that could lead to violence, such as the Jan. 6 insurrection attempt at the U.S. Capitol, Hasen said.

“Because the social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are mostly unregulated and because the First Amendment protects free speech, the question is how you achieve the right balance between having a robust political forum where people can express their views without fear of government interference and the danger that can happen when dangerous disinformation about elections and organizing for political violence occurs on social media,” Hasen said.

For the fall semester, the center’s planned events include a lunch series discussing American democracy, disinformation in elections and the global impact of digital media.

In the future, Kaye said the Center plans to host programming looking at elections in other countries and the impact of social media on their democratic processes.

“The thing that we’re trying to do is bring a research agenda that pays attention both to the domestic and the global, and that’s something we definitely don’t see anywhere,” Kaye said. “It’s really exciting to do this.”

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Nicole Tyau

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