THE REAL DANGER OF FAKE NEWS

Freedom_of_SpeechThe Obama Administration and many Democratic leaders have made “fake news” a rallying cry for more government and private regulation of the Internet — as well as a rationale for the devastating loss of Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. Below is a column exploring the dangers of this new justification for speech regulation, which are already becoming evident in various countries around the world. I recently discussed the issue as part of an interesting segment with Ted Koppel.

The recent arrest of an armed North Carolina man in Washington pizzeria has led many to join the call for the curtailment of “fake news” like the story that Comet Ping Pong was a front of Clinton and her campaign chief, John Podesta, of a child sex ring. It is a ridiculous claim but it was enough to send Edgar Maddison to the site with an assault weapon. For civil libertarians, such incidents create an all-too-familiar hue and cry. Faced with a violent, unhinged reaction to a posting, the first response of many is to question the value of free speech and the First Amendment. Around the world, many have called for action to combat “fake news.” It is the latest siren’s call to get citizens to give up a defining right to government’s eager to control the media.
In her first public appearance since losing the election, Hillary Clinton called for actions against the “epidemic” of fake news and called it a danger to democracy. She called for government legislation and a coalition of private and public regulation. In a recent meeting between Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the two world leaders also struck out against fake news and its dangers. Obama warned that “[b]ecause in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and its packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television. If everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”
Under classic free speech analysis, the answer is simple: you protect it all. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in his dissent to the 1919 case Abrams v. United States, “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” In other words, the solution to bad speech is more speech.
Of course, certain speech can result in arrest where it is the basis for a conspiracy or part of a fraudulent enterprise or encouraging for imminent violent acts. It can also result in civil liability such as actions for defamation or product disparagement. However, advocates of censorship are speaking of something far more extreme. They want to see a government crackdown on those who merely utter false statements or “propaganda.” Indeed, some are speaking of a reconsideration of the very value or permitted scope of free speech. That is the position taken by Harvard Professor Noah Feldman who questioned whether “fake” speech is protected speech. Feldman views “fake news” as a type of market failure in the market of ideas – the type of problem that calls for regulation not more speech. Feldman reflects a certain crisis of faith in free speech among liberals who are increasingly treating free speech as the problem rather than the solution for a free society. From hate speech to “microaggressions” to “fake news,” liberals are calling for the government to censor speech.
Various governments are ramping up monitoring efforts and discussing both voluntary and involuntary censorship through Internet and social media companies. In France and other countries, companies are already being prosecuted for posting being hateful. This week, a congressional committee moved to add $160 million to the National Defense Authorization Act to combat “disinformation” on news sites. Many want to see government actively ban sites and internet providers are being warned that they have to censor false stories or face government regulation from countries like Germany. In order words, be a “Little Brother” or face “Big Brother.”
The problem is that someone has to decide what is false or what is inspired for foreign agencies to cause mischief. For example, Hillary Clinton denounced Wikileaks as false but never cited as single false email to prove her claim. Likewise, acting DNC head Donna Brazile repeatedly made the same allegations when emails showed that she unethically leaked questions to be asked at a CNN townhall to the Clinton campaign. Brazile told the media that she could prove that emails were tampered with but never supplied the evidence. Wikileaks infuriated the establishment in Washington. The response has been blind rage from people in Washington who have thrived on controlling information and shaping the news.
It is an easy rationale for government regulation that has not been lost on countries long at odds with free speech. For example, this week Egyptian authorities arrests an Al-Jazeera journalist for incitement and fabricating news. Egyptian Mahmoud Hussein, 51, was the subject of a raid on his home and was then detained “pending an investigation into accusations that he incited against the state and broadcast fake news and documentaries”. The arrest illustrates the dangerous course being suggested by the Obama Administration and leader Democratic leaders in the political spasm following the election loss to Donald Trump.
“Fake news” is simply the latest excuse for governments to convince citizens to invite their own censorship. The dangers could not be more evident that the recent article by the Washington Post citing a study by a dubious group called PropOrNot listing various sites spreading false stories. The organization produced a effective black list that was portrayed as an objective list of peddlers of false stories or “Russian propangda.” It included some of the most popular political sites from the left and right Truthout, Zero Hedge, Antiwar.com, and the Ron Paul Institute. It even includes one of the most read sites on the Internet, the Drudge Report. Notably, it also included WikiLeaks, which has been credited with exposing political corruption and unlawful surveillance programs. Ironically, PropOrNot has itself been criticized for falsely claimed associations with various offices and sites.
The ProporNot controversy shows how easy it is to create a blacklist and how eager many will be to silence those sites deemed “fronts” or “false.” The move to regulate speech on the Internet is little more than a digital version of mob justice. These advocates, however, are right in part. Fake news does have a real danger but it is not the erosion of democracy. Citizens can protect themselves, particularly with a free and unregulated Internet. The real danger of fake news is the reaction to it. The real danger is censorship.

122 thoughts on “THE REAL DANGER OF FAKE NEWS

  1. The MSM is a joke by all people who truly pay attention. NY Times, Wash Post, etc have been exposed as total frauds – so they need to refigure their finances. Just like that arsehole Matt Lyer and his gang coming down and reporting the Walter Scott trial and showing a photo of folks in Maryland rioting and burning down shit in their hoods which NEVER happened here in Charleston.
    Ugh! I SO happy that I will never ever have to click on to to listen to those vile, hideous people again.

    Vive le Internet! Where we can choose our news sources or on blogs like this where actual thinking people provide relevant posts.

    • Autumn,
      While I agree with you that the MSM too often perform as tools for tptb, I do think they have a place. They did report on the Clinton email server, they did report on Clinton’s goal to topple Assad, etc. I want the MSM to stick around, but I want the alternative media to provide their alternate analysis, and to report news (like the bill I cited above) when the MSM bypasses important events as though there is nothing to see.

      Having both prevents complacency because competing perspectives must be weighed, debated, and their merit determined.

      • Point taken Prairie Rose. When it comes the MSM I tend to throw out the baby w/ the bathwater =) I know way more about the print media than television as I can’t bear to watch it – only through this primary/election season did I force myself to do so and IMO they were mostly all terrible – sure a bit of “real” news here and there but then on to the next innocuous topic – always the stupid snark and ha ha ha – the emphasis on the talking heads vs the topic. But you may know shows I did not happen to catch. I do know talking with my Mum who is in her 70s and watches TV all the time that when we talked she was wholly unaware of many events that had taken place and never heard about Wikileaks, DAPL, etc.

        Currently reading a bio about Mike Wallace after listening to some of his interviews in the 1950s – that was an entirely different era in the MSM – sure they had to sell shampoo, etc. but the level of discourse was way different IMO

        • Autumn,
          I do not have TV, but see snippets when I visit relatives. NPR was marching to the drumbeat of ‘fake news’ all the time recently, but never really got into Wikileaks. I, too, have a relative who watches the news all the time and she echoed what the talking heads said. I made sure to send her the MSM links that support non-official pov. Hope she read them and wondered at the differences.

          Thanks for the link. I will watch it when I get a chance.

  2. How about ‘No News’? What with all the hyperventilating about the ‘tsunami’ of ‘fake news’ it is disturbing that there are no mMSM articles about the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda bill that President Obama just signed. You would think the MSM would want to highlight such an action.

    • Probably because the Senate vote was 92 to 7 in favor of the bill. Wonder who the 7 were that voted against. it. Had Obama vetoed the bill, the veto would had easily been overridden

  3. Fake news has been around since the mid-1800s, when boys would shout outrageous headlines in order to sell papers. It’s no different, be it Left or Right, mainstream or otherwise. From Fox to MSNBC, from Keith Olbermann to Alex Jones, there is no difference.

    Their goal is to evoke anger, which keeps a person engaged. That’s why the industry calls this “Engagement.” Engagement means more money for the “reporter.”

    The answer to fake news is not censorship or government regulation. China regulates fake news, and defines it as any news that goes against the current government.

    The real answer lies within the employment of skepticism and critical thought. However, a populace of critical thinkers would not work out very well for our current Democrat/Republican format.

    It’s two sides of the same dirty coin, and things won’t change until more people can recognize it and THINK, instead of blindly and dogmatically rooting for their favorite, infallible football team.

  4. “A man has a property in his opinions and the free communication of them.”
    James Madison

    “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”
    James Madison

    “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.”- James Madison early version of the 1st Amendment

  5. The Obama Administration and Hillary Clinton are calling for a crackdown on propaganda? Like if you like your insurance plan you can keep it? If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor? Average families will save $2500 a year? It was a video? You mean, did I wipe it with a cloth? I did not send or receive classified information. I cooperated with the FBI. I turned over all work related emails.

    Honestly, if they could get through a press conference condemning fake news without turning beet red and laughing, they’ve been in politics so long as to loose touch with reality.

    As Professor Turley pointed out, we already have laws against libel and the incitement of violence. And we have a long and storied relationship with satire, politicians lying through their noses, and the government desperately putting a positive spin on disasters.

    If you want quality, honest news, and all the facts without the government deciding what we, as children, may consume, then demand that journalists do a better job. Demand more straight fact reporting rather than op-eds and talk shows, and demand that both sides of the issues be presented equally whenever possible.

    There will always be crackpots who make irrational, sometimes violent decisions, based on misinformation. (See BLM, and all the riots after Trump won the election.)

    We must maintain the rigor of our First Amendment rights. We are lucky to have such freedom and must not discard it.

  6. There is news, there is so-called news that regurgitates the government party line, and then there is competition to the government party line news that is now being called “fake news.” The people choose for themselves which news and information they want to consume. The more competition the better. No to government censorship.

      • Versus news that is real, true, pure and easily identifiable? I think not. News by its nature is not pure. It is a mixture of facts, ideas, information, rumors, exaggerations, errors, subjectivity and mostly liberal points of view.

  7. It seems like these folks clamoring for regulation on “fake news” are those who’s endgame is to establish a Ministry of Truth to govern speech. It is completely contradictory in that their actions are divergent from their goals. The Clinton campaign of recent unfold was based upon lies. Yet, she seems to want to protect the public from other lies.

    This is one of the many contradictions of the leadership of the American Left. They profess that they are for freedom, yet with regard to free speech they are the most likely to demand censorship.

    One of the reasons this is happening is because their current narrative has lost the interest of much of the public. Rather than attempt to correct this situation by rethinking their goals they instead cling to pundits and their religion (politics), refusing to accept they are losing followers. They make every attempt to sabotage someone else getting the upper hand via the marketplace of ideas.

    If any news deserves the label of fake it is what much of the mainstream media engaged in and as expected they continue to lose credibility with the unaffiliated citizen.

    Credibility should be the element for which to judge a news source. Due diligence and taking responsibility on behalf of the reader is the only responsibility the public news consumer owes to themselves.

      • Maybe I don’t pay that much attention to the news.

        Sorry, but your evasive reply leads me to deepen my conclusion that you are just Making Stuff Up.

        • The whole non-authorized server debacle, not having any classified emails on the server she was not supposed to have in the first place, having it Bleachbitted (you mean wiped with a cloth?). I could go on. There is plenty of discussion with supporting links in the archives of this blog.

      • I see alotta people making stuff up about being attacked or abused by Trump supporters too. Turns out most of that is lies, exaggeration and Making Stuff Up. And I see these fake hate crimes being reported as real news on real news channels.

        • He’s speaking the truth. The use of the term would be anachronistic referring to the world of 1790 (‘whig’ or ‘physiocratic’ might not be), but the bullet points of the Founders’ social thought (outside the apologetical advocates of slavery) incorporate the notions of common citizenship (that is, a society of classes, not a society of orders), religious pluralism (again, no order of clergy, merely citizens who work as clergy), government by electoral and deliberative institutions, free enterprise (as opposed to guilds, mercantilist policy, and complicated land tenure arrangements). It incorporates (in comparison with continental Europe in that era) a bias toward commercial and industrial proprietors (contra the landed interest or the military) and a bias toward small (or perhaps entrepreneurial) proprietors contra the nobility (or peerage and gentry in Britain) among the landed interest.

          Terms like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ were common though not omnipresent in occidental societies and their derivatives (e.g. Latin America). The social and programmatic divisions differed from place to place. In Latin America, a crucial axis differentiated devout Catholics from freemasons, which was not an important polarity in Anglophone societies.

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