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Defamation, Disinformation, and the Depp-Heard Trial

If you loaded up the internet or turned on the television somewhere in the United States over the last two months, it’s been impossible to avoid news coverage of the defamation trial of actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard—both of whom sued each other over a dispute relating to allegations by Heard of domestic abuse by Depp. In early June, a Virginia jury found that both had defamed the other. The litigation has received a great deal of coverage for what it might say about the fate of the Me Too movement—but the flood of falsehoods online around the trial raises questions about how useful defamation law can really be in countering lies. 

This week on Arbiters of Truth, our series on the online information ecosystem, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with RonNell Andersen Jones, the Lee E. Teitelbaum Professor of Law at the University of Utah College of Law and an expert on the First Amendment and the interaction between the press and the courts. Along with Lyrissa Lidsky, she’s written about defamation law, disinformation, and the Depp-Heard litigation. They talked about why some commentators think defamation could be a useful route to counter falsehoods, why RonNell thinks the celebrity litigation undercuts that argument, and the few cases in which claims of libel or slander really could have an impact in limiting the spread of lies.

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7/1/2022

Memorializing Babyn Yar after the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

When a Russian missile recently struck a TV tower in Kyiv, near Babyn Yar, the site of Nazi mass murders during the Holocaust, some saw the attack as a potent symbol of the tragic occurrence of violence in Ukraine. To talk through the historical significance of the attack, Lawfare Managing Editor Tyler McBrien sat down with Maksym Rokmaniko, an architect, designer, entrepreneur, and director at the Center for Spatial Technologies in Kyiv, and Linda Kinstler, a PhD candidate in the rhetoric department at UC Berkeley.In her recent New York times essay, the Bloody Echoes of Babyn Yar, Lindawrote, "the current war in Ukraine is so oversaturated with historical meaning, it is unfolding on soil that has absorbed wave after wave of the dead, where soldiers do not always have to dig trenches in the forest because the old ones remain."Linda's writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Atlantic and Jewish Currents, where she recently reported on the Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial center. Linda is also the author of Come to This Court and Cry: How the Holocaust Ends, which is out in the U.S. on August 23rd, from Public Affairs.Tyler, Linda and Maksym discuss the history of Babyn Yar as a sight and symbol, the role of open source investigative techniques and forensic modeling in the documentation of war crimes, the battle over historical narratives, memorialization and memory, as well as the limits of the law in achieving justice for victims of negation and genocide.