Illusions: free speech or free press?

Suppose there were someone — or a number of someones — with the superhero-esque ability to cast or create full-sensory illusions.

As far as I can tell, it’s not illegal to lie (except in certain circumstances: filing a false police report, criminal fraud, shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, false advertising, etc). I’m guessing that illusion powers wouldn’t be illegal, at least based on current laws. New laws would undoubtedly be forged to govern them.

Would the use of such abilities be governed by the laws under free speech, do you think, or those of a free press? Would an illusion count as a “publication?” Or would they simply be a method of personal expression?

Unless people can freely choose to see through it without first needing to recognise that it is an illusion, none of the above. The ability to force an illusion on someone basically destroys the concept of informed consent, and would make it incredibly easy for an illusionist to wreak havoc, without any fear of retribution.

Those precise objections can be made against lying: slander and libel, it’s called.

Can you pick up the newspaper, or watch television, and instantly perceive the truth? I can’t. And yet speech, and television, are legal media.

Ah, but you DO perceive that you are picking up the newspaper or watching television, or using the internet, which suggests you are consenting to enter into discourse or interaction, and have the ability to at least attempt to sort through the information you are receiving. That would apparently not be the case if someone could beam thoughts or illusions into your mind against your will. I would rule that that is not protected speech, therefore.

The right to privacy is currently protected by Supreme Court precedent and I think this kind of illusion, practiced unwillingly, violates privacy. And it does interfere with informed consent as well.

But anybody can lie to you. Lying is not illegal, nor is it an invasion of privacy.

If you tell me, “the sky is green” I can look up and say, “you’re lying to me”.

If you project the image of the sky being green into my brain without consent, then I have no idea I’m being lied to (or even know of the possibility of being lied to). My privacy has thus been violated.

You managed to overlook just a couple of my points there.

If I lie to you though you can choose to ignore me. You can walk away, tune me out, or start singing “Na na na! I’m not listeniiiiing!” However, with an illusion, as it would be imposed upon you, you can’t do that.

The problem here is orders of magnitude worse. Assuming we are talking about reasonably educated adults, there are limits to what a lie can do. For instance, a lie cannot convince you that there is a cover on an open manhole, and that stepping onto thin air won’t make you fall to your death.

Suppose I play audio of a helicopter out the windows of my house. You can’t see the full sky from where you are. You have know way of knowing that you’re being fooled. Have I invaded your privacy?

To expand on this objection, the Supreme Court has never protected your right to deceive someone else as far as I know. The example of shouting fire in a crowded theater idea (“clear and present danger” - although this isn’t legal precedent now) is based on the idea that you do not have the right to say things that would bring people to harm. The fire example itself deals with causing harm through deception.

There are components to charges of defamation (libel and slander); they include recklesses disregard and malice. If you projected an illusion into someone’s mind and it was false (that part would be easy to prove) and your intent was either malicious or in reckless disregard of the truth, that would not be protected speech any more than defamation is.

Actually, you don’t have the right to shout anything in a crowded theater. It’s private property and you have to abide by the rules of the owner.

All right: is makeup illegal? Plastic surgery? You can visually fool somebody into thinking you’re 10 years younger. Is that also an invasion of privacy? Is there a problem with informed consent if someone wears concealer to cover up an unsightly mole?

Is camouflage illegal? If you fool someone into thinking there isn’t a soldier there with a gun, is that an illegal deception?

You seem to be coming from the viewpoint that illusion could be used to create the illusion of safety, when there is really a hazard (such as fire). And it could. It could also be used to create very small and harmless illusions (such as clothing). If someone walked nude out of his house wearing only the illusion of clothing, is that causing anyone harm?

Of course any kind of illusion — or, for the sake of argument, holograms or virtual reality — would be regulated. I’m not disputing that. How would they be regulated?

As for the idea that “you know you are picking up a newspaper, or watching television,” is true: but look at the programs on television that present themselves as news. They claim to be true. And yet they can lie. What has informed consent to do with that?

If I nabbed you and put you in your own personal matrix, is that ok?

You seemed okay with it when I did it to you.

Ooops! Forget I said that.

There’s no comparison here because none of those illusions are broadcast inside someone’s mind. In those other situations, it’s possible to tell reality from the illusion even if appearances are deceiving. There’s also the captive audience issue.

I was picturing the opposite, actually: illusions that convinced people they were in danger when they weren’t, causing them to do reckless things that lead to injury or death.

I would say no one is harmed, although the broadcast itself is invasive. But since nobody’s harmed there, there wasn’t any particular reason to think about how the law might apply.

For the reasons I gave in my first couple of posts, I think the courts would find that these illusions are not protected speech, and that would allow for regulations that would at least block nonconsensual, potentially harmful illusion projection.

When watching TV, you can shut it off or look way and you consent to watch. If somebody beams an image into your brain, not so much.

I dunno how a thing like this could be debated, honestly. The hypothetical ethics of someone with bona fide mind control level powers is a little too hypothetical for my taste.

I mean, sure, I thought Superman was a dick for mind-wiping Lois Lane after scoring with her, but it’s not like regular humans haven’t done worse by slipping someone ruffies in their drink, and somehow Superman is considered to be the worse person.

(This is like asking: “Is it ethical for Dr. Manhattan to not care about the wellbeing of a couple billion people because he’s time-displaced and he can’t be assed?” or “Is it ethical for Haruhi Suzumiya to alter reality every time she’s bored, even if she isn’t consciously aware of her ability?”)