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It's recently been revealed (by himself, even) that the famous business man and Shark Tank member Kevin O'Leary actually does own Bitcoin, and that he bought them in 2017. Ever since, until recently, he's been publicly mocking it, calling it a "nothing burger", etc.

Now that he's revealed that he bought in 2017, but "couldn't talk about it", people just seem to accept that as nothing. Totally normal and acceptable.

Aren't there laws against lying in public as a public figure? I mean, he had Bitcoin but kept actively bashing it. It's one thing if he said: "No comments." or something, but going out of your way to badmouth it even though you had it, denying that you had any?

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    If it were illegal for a "public person" to lie in public, they'd all be in jail. – Ron Beyer Mar 9 at 3:50
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    I don't quite see lies here. He owns bitcoins and he dislikes them. Those two aren't mutually exclusive. – Zizy Archer Mar 9 at 11:54
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    In normal investments, this could potentially be considered an insider trading scam - he could be trying to devalue the currency to purchase it at a lower price to sell later. But it would be difficult to prove even if that was the case - and I don't think Cryptocurrency has the same restrictions in trading, either. – Zibbobz Mar 9 at 15:10
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    So, he was talking about something he had actually used, rather than just mouthing off on something he knew nothing about... and you see that as a bad thing, and a lie, and believe it should be illegal. Not sure whether to be amused or concerned. – Dewi Morgan Mar 9 at 17:50
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    That’s not lying. You’ve muddled the question by using an example that isn’t lying. – user76284 Mar 9 at 19:56
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That really depends what they lie about

In the United States, there's no general law against lying. The fact that a statement is false doesn't inherently strip it of protection under the first amendment. Public figures lie to the public all the time. That's why news companies have fact checkers.

Was it defamatory?

It is, however, illegal to defame someone. If someone makes a false statement of fact (that is, not an opinion) about a person or company, they may be liable for that. Whether they are liable for that depends on a number of factors, including whether the target is a public figure (see New York Times Co. v. Sullivan), the speaker's knowledge of its falsity, and whether the target was damaged by it.

Was it part of some other criminal scheme?

False statements to the public could be part of some sort of fraud, for instance. Pump and dump schemes, for instance, are illegal.

Was it under oath?

Lying under oath (such as when testifying in court) would constitute perjury, which is a crime.

There are many other situations in which lying could be a crime (such as lying on your taxes), but these are the main ones I can think of that would be about lying to the public.


In this case (I'm unfamiliar with the details of what he said, so I'm just going off your description), I can't immediately think of any reason that could lead to liability. Mocking and calling something a "nothing burger" is pretty clearly an opinion, not a false statement of fact. I'm not aware of any securities law against saying you don't like something you're actually invested in (though I'm not especially familiar with securities law).

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    "I'm not aware of any securities law against saying you don't like something you're actually invested in" IIRC from some of the stuff I've seen stated about the recent Gamestop controversy, it might be illegal to make false statements about what you've invested in, and how much money you've made from them? – nick012000 Mar 9 at 13:04
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    There are other times it's illegal to lie as well. Yelling "FIRE!" in a crowded theater is a classic example. That's not defamation, and it's not under oath. It just puts people's lives in danger as they stampede over one another to get out. – Arthur Mar 9 at 18:56
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    @Arthur It's a classic example... that isn't entirely correct. It's from Schenck v. United States, 1919 which was partially overturned in Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969. – reirab Mar 9 at 23:34
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    There is a general law in the US about lying to a federal official about anything that affects the official's duty. pagepate.com/experience/criminal-defense/federal-crimes/… – Paul Johnson Mar 10 at 14:34
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    as far as I know, securities laws would not be relevant here anyway, because the SEC does not consider Bitcoin to be a security. – Glenn Willen Mar 10 at 18:10
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The First Amendment guarantee of free speech includes the right to lie. U.S. v. Alvarez, 567 U.S. 709 (2012) ("Absent from those few categories where the law allows content-based regulation of speech is any general exception to the First Amendment for false statements.")

There are a variety of exceptions, but for the most part, everyone is free to lie as long as they aren't trying to subvert justice or inflict harm on someone else.

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It is usually illegal to lie with the intention to influence share prices, and then use the change you caused when trading these shares.

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    @Robyn It might also be illegal if he talked down bitcoin to drive its prices down so that he could buy more of it more cheaply, so that he could make more money when it recovered back to its natural value. – nick012000 Mar 10 at 3:12
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    By definition a bitcoin's value is entirely comprised of "manipulation". It has no actual worth itself. It doesn't even do anything unlike gold. The only reason why it is worth anything is because people want it, and that's it. The "mining" of bitcoins are also only worth something because bitcoins are worth something. They are literally brute-force blockchain calculations for the bitcoin network. – Nelson Mar 10 at 8:46
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    @Peter-ReinstateMonica No actually. You can pay taxes with the dollar. If you don't pay your taxes, you will get into trouble. Bitcoin is strictly worse than the dollar. – Nelson Mar 11 at 8:03
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    @Nelson the only reason you can pay taxes with the dollar is because some people agree that you can. At any moment the dollar could become worthless, or at any moment those people could agree on paying taxes with Bitcoin. We just happen to be at a moment in time where those scenarios are not the case – Tim Mar 11 at 8:46
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    Bitcoin isn't as far as I'm aware regulated as a "security" so insider trading laws may not apply. – David Waterworth Mar 11 at 21:55
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The main problem of that concept is that very few statements are clearly lies.

The first problem is to determine the actual objective truth; modern philosophers will laugh you out of court for the attempt ("whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent"; "gender is a social construct" etc.); even natural scientists will readily admit that all they have are models and theories in which they have varying degrees of confidence. To form a consensual model of our reality is the first reason why we have an equivalent to the First Amendment in all democracies of the world, before we even talk values and policies. (And as an aside, the fracturing of this public discourse due to social segregation and social media is the reason we don't share the same model of reality any longer, if we ever did; maybe the fracturing is just becoming more visible. Slaves in the 1800s would likely have disagreed with a lot of factual statements considered true by plantation owners, but they didn't have Twitter.)

The second problem is the verification. Even if we are considering statements of physical facts which we can falsify or verify in principle with certainty; even then we very rarely have first-hand knowledge of them. You and I were not on the moon; you and I didn't sit in the 9/11 cockpits; you and I were not counting ballots in Georgia. We rely on second-hand information for almost everything we think we know.

The third problem is that a lie, especially if you want to punish or reprimand people for it, involves some degree of intent. We all make factual errors; we misremember, forget, confuse and misunderstand. That cannot be punished or sanctioned; it's part of being human. How do you prove that a factual error was intentional, even if you have found a clear-cut case of a factual contradiction?

In the end, free speech is one of the most basic privileges of a free citizenry. Curbing it is curbing that freedom, exclusively to the benefit of one specific group: The ones who rule.

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    I those cases where a lie is part of a punishable act, there is no need to prove the "actual objective truth" to the standard of philosophy. In the end it just has to sound reasonable to a judge. – blues Mar 11 at 14:52
  • @blues You got a point. But it is often still hard. Even in regular criminal trials it is often difficult to establish what happened, even though most criminal acts are very physical (theft, violence). By contrast, the statements discussed here will often claim non-physical facts. As a recent example, take the claim "Trump incited an insurrection". Did he? I mean, there is even TV footage. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Mar 11 at 15:24
  • Apart from all you say, there is nothing morally wrong with controlling access to the truth. If some asks you, "What is your minimum price?", is it immoral for you to say $50 when you know you would take $40? – Oscar Bravo Mar 11 at 16:48
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Actually, I believe that is the reason criminal cases are always argued from two oposing sides. In theory, two equally skilled lawyers on opposing sides would bring to light the nearest possible approximation of the truth. – jpaugh Mar 11 at 23:22
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica The problem with "Did Trump incite insurrection?" is you must establish not only fact, but also motive. His actions will have seemed perfectly reasonable to many, as there is no overt attempt to incite insurrection --- at least, as far as I know! – jpaugh Mar 11 at 23:24

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