Seminar Series: Health Misinformation Online: Can Social Media Influencers be Liable for Physical Harm? with Leah Fowler, JD, MPH

Monday, Nov 27, 2023
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Bloomberg School of Public Health Feinstone Hall
615 N. Wolfe Street
Baltimore, MD

Over the past decade, social media influencers have emerged as a predominant source of information for millions of Americans. Of particular note are influencers who provide bad health advice that, once taken, can injure or kill. Yet, while commentators have examined the possibilities of regulatory restrictions on influencer health content, scholars have failed to grapple with the physical harm influencer misinformation can cause and how tort liability could shape conduct. But, social media highlights the centrality of speech in these cases. As a result, First Amendment doctrine casts a shadow over the feasibility of tort liability for influencers.

 Professor Fowler will talk about health misinformation online through the lens of influencers who promote harmful health products, services, and advice. She will discuss the mechanisms that have traditionally acted as partial deterrents and address First Amendment possibilities and obstacles for negligence-based influencer speech-torts. Finally, she will explore the potential of influencer speech-torts liability, examining the key questions of duty of care, breach of duty, and causation.

Leah R. Fowler is a Research Assistant Professor and Research Director in the Health Law & Policy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center. Her work explores topics at the intersection of health, law, and consumer technology, focusing primarily on smartphone applications and social media platforms.