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When it comes to the First Amendment, Team Obama believes in Global Chilling. Cass Sunstein, a Harvard Law professor who has been appointed to a shadowy post that will grant him powers that are merely mind-boggling, explicitly supports using the courts to impose a “chilling effect” on speech that might hurt someone’s feelings. He thinks that the bloggers have been rampaging out of control and that new laws need to be written to corral them. Advance copies of Sunstein’s new book, “On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done,” have gone out to reviewers ahead of its September publication date, but considering the prominence with which Sunstein is about to be endowed, his worrying views are fair game now. Sunstein is President Obama’s choice to head the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It’s the bland titles that should scare you the most.
Sunstein also believes that - whether you're a blogger, The New York Times or a Web hosting service - you should be held responsible even for what your commenters say. Currently you're immune under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. "Reasonable people," he says, "might object that this is not the right rule," though he admits that imposing liability for commenters on service providers would be "a considerable burden."
But who cares about a burden when insults are being bandied about? "A 'chilling effect' on those who would spread destructive falsehoods can be an excellent idea," he says.
"As we have seen," Sunstein writes, having shown us no such thing, "falsehoods can undermine democracy itself." What Sunstein means by that sentence is pretty clear: He doesn't like so-called false rumors about his longtime University of Chicago friend and colleague, Barack Obama.