Government Speech 2.0
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
New expressive technologies continue to transform the ways in which members of the public speak to one another. Not surprisingly, emerging technologies have changed the ways in which government speaks as well. Despite substantial shifts in how the government and other parties actually communicate, however, the Supreme Court to date has developed its government speech doctrine – which recognizes “government speech” as a defense to First Amendment challenges by plaintiffs who claim that the government has impermissibly excluded their expression based on viewpoint – only in the context of disputes involving fairly traditional forms of expression. In none of these decisions, moreover, has the Court required government publicly to identify itself as the source of a contested message to satisfy the government speech defense to a First Amendment claim. The Court’s failure to condition the government speech defense on the message’s transparent identification as governmental is especially mystifying because the costs of such a requirement are so small when compared to its considerable benefits in ensuring that government remains politically accountable for its expressive choices.
This Article seeks to start a conversation about how courts – and the rest of us – might re-think our expectations about government speech in light of government’s increasing reliance on emerging technologies that have dramatically altered expression’s speed, audience, collaborative nature, and anonymity. It anticipates the next generation of government speech disputes in which certain associations and entanglements between government and private speakers complicate the government speech question. By adding to these challenges, government’s increasing use of newer technologies that vary in their interactivity and transparency may give the Court additional reason to re-examine its government speech jurisprudence. “Government Speech 2.0” thus refers not only to the next generation of government speech, but also to the possibility that government’s increasing reliance on emerging expressive technologies may help inspire the next generation of government speech doctrine: one more appropriately focused on ensuring government’s meaningful political accountability for its expressive choices.