Libel by Algorithm? Automated Journalism and the Threat of Legal Liability

Seth C. Lewis*, Amy Kristin Sanders, Casey Carmody

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


The rise of automated journalism—the algorithmically driven conversion of structured data into news stories—presents a range of potentialities and pitfalls for news organizations. Chief among the potential legal hazards is one issue that has yet to be explored in journalism studies: the possibility that algorithms could produce libelous news content. Although the scenario may seem far-fetched, a review of legal cases involving algorithms and libel suggests that news organizations must seriously consider legal liability as they develop and deploy newswriting bots. Drawing on the American libel law framework, we outline two key issues to consider: (a) the complicated matter of determining fault in a case of algorithm-based libel, and (b) the inability of news organizations to adopt defenses similar to those used by Google and other providers of algorithmic content. These concerns are discussed in light of broader trends of automation and artificial intelligence in the media and information environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)60-81
Number of pages22
JournalJournalism and Mass Communication Quarterly
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • First Amendment
  • algorithms
  • automated journalism
  • defamation
  • journalism studies
  • law and policy
  • libel
  • media law

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication


Dive into the research topics of 'Libel by Algorithm? Automated Journalism and the Threat of Legal Liability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this