On Wednesday, June 24, Spencer A. Overton, Professor of Law, testified at a Congressional hearing on social media disinformation online, voter suppression, and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The remote hearing, “A Country in Crisis: How Disinformation Online is Dividing the Nation,” was hosted by the US House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology and Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce.
Professor Overton testified how disinformation is used to divide Americans along racial lines. He explained that the failure of social media companies to stop disinformation results in disproportionate harm for black communities in the form of targeted voter suppression.
In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, he questioned whether these companies will address their own systemic shortcomings and fully embrace civil rights principles.
According to Professor Overton, social media companies should use the authority provided under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to stop disinformation campaigns.
He also believes that Congress should engage in debate over legal reforms and that the conversation should include the voices of communities of color who have been severely impacted by intentionally misleading information.
In addition to teaching at GW Law, Professor Overton is the President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. An expert in voting rights, election law, and campaign finance, he is the author of Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression (W.W. Norton), as well as academic articles, think tank reports, and commentaries on race and public policy, including State Power to Regulate Social Media Companies, 53 UC Davis L. Rev. 1793 (2020).
Professor Overton held policy leadership roles on the Obama presidential campaign and transition team. During the Obama administration, he served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the US Department of Justice Office of Legal Policy and as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
Prior to joining the GW Law faculty, he was a member of the law faculty of the University of California, Davis, and served as the Charles Hamilton Houston Fellow at Harvard. Before entering academia, he practiced law at Debevoise & Plimpton in Washington, DC. He also served as a law clerk to Judge Damon J. Keith of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.