Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Domestic and international criminal law have to come a crossroads when it comes to propaganda. Over the last decade, legal anthropologists have argued that in order to regulate speech that incites violence, courts must draw from coherent legal standards and social science to determine whether a speech act is likely to incite violence. Without the combination of legal and social science evidence, legal actors, including judges, prosecutors, and defenders, have made problematic inferences about the way propaganda works, often relying on misleading heuristics and faulty metaphors. The shortcomings of these inferences are considerable: many trial judgments about propaganda’s role in causing violence are inaccurate; and outdated legal frameworks, which were designed decades prior to social media, have resulted in the acquittal of propagandists, many of whom openly expressed support for hate crimes or mass violence. Nowhere are these problems more obvious than international criminal tribunals and the International Criminal Court, where legal actors have struggled to show that a propagandist caused mass violence, or have confused the kinds of evidence needed to establish a propagandist’s guilt. To avoid these problems in future propaganda trials, this presentation uses the methodology advocated by Richard Ashby Wilson and Jordan Kiper (in press) to provide an evidence-based framework for evaluating inciting speech acts. It is shown that while legal frameworks alone result in simple linear narratives, the combination of law and social science, albeit more complex, makes regulatory frameworks more flexible, reliable, and reflective of propaganda as a dynamic social phenomena.