Master of Mass Communication (MMC)


Mass Communication

Document Type



The Catalyst to Harm Standard is a specific standard that sets forth step-by-step criteria for the courts to follow so that they can factually determine if the speech in question falls into the category of protected or unprotected speech. This Standard labels certain speech as “bad” not because of its ideological or social content, but because it is speech that is linked to a definitive social harm that the legislature has the constitutional authority to prevent or punish. This Standard uses three criteria to determine the liability of speech that has allegedly caused harm. In order to meet these requirements, the plaintiff must establish the harm that actually resulted, establish the intent of the speaker, and establish a causal connection between the speech and the harm that occurred. While my Thesis is not the first research done on the topic of limiting harmful speech, it is the first research paper to develop generic, step-by-step criteria by which courts can legally punish speech that has caused harm. The Catalyst to Harm Standard does not require Brandenburg’s notion of imminence because there is no need for the “imminence” requirement when punishing speech that has already resulted in harm. Instead, to impose liability, this standard focuses on other factors such as harm, intent, and causal connection. The purpose of the Catalyst to Harm Standard is not to impose an unconstitutional prior restraint on speech. Instead, this Standard only applies to speech that has facilitated and resulted in harm. In adhering to the marketplace doctrine, this Standard is a punishment only for certain speech that is too instrumental and intertwined with the performance of criminal activity to retain First Amendment protection.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Craig M. Freeman