The American citizen currently enjoys greater access to information than any average person in human history. But you wouldn’t know that from reading The New York Times, Buzzfeed or any other of the many outlets busying themselves calling for the administration, in concert with corporations, to censor fake news stories.
The problem, they say, is that with this real and dramatically increased access to information, we have seen a real and dramatic uptick in access to false information. This much, we can all agree on. But then, many say, this uptick in false information requires a regime of corporate or government censorship they had not before trumpeted. That is where we disagree.
Because they have identified an ancient problem — misinformation — and claimed that in the modern day we are susceptible to this more than before, despite the exact opposite being the case.
“Over the last week, two of the world’s biggest internet companies have faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome,” The New York Times reported just a week after the election, ginning up pressure to ban news deemed fake. (RELATED: BuzzFeed Caught Citing Fake Data In Its ‘Fake News Won The Election For Trump’ Argument … Again)
Between then and now, left-leaning outlets have rushed to their posts in the choir, using later-debunked statistics to claim that fake news had an out-sized footprint on social media, and then using that — sans any proof — to claim that this pox on the country was why Hillary Clinton lost the election.
Admittedly without any science to back it up, a thinking person can guess that “Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Is A KKK Member” swayed no undecided voters toward Clinton; nor that “George Soros: ‘I’m Going To Bring Down The U.S. By Funding Black Hate Groups'” made any otherwise moderate voter switch to Donald Trump.
Still, the press, citing itself, clamored that the pressure was building. In a bizarre Dec. 5 White House press briefing, in the face of calls for government action against fake news, press secretary Josh Earnest was forced to remind reporters four times that the First Amendment protects American citizens.
“Do you think the market just will have to police itself on that then?” The New York Times’s Gardiner Harris asked incredulously, momentarily forgetting that he might like the next administration less than the current.
And then Facebook acted, last week announcing ways to crowd-source censorship, allowing billions of users to flag content they say is false in the hope that one of the country’s biggest corporations would save them.
“Yesterday’s announcement, which was widely discussed in media circles, came in response to mounting pressure on Facebook to drain the swamp of dubious news stories flooding its users’ newsfeeds,” Politico’s “Morning Media” announced the following day.
From a seat on a public bus, readers can pull down news stories from across the globe, from outlets ranging from China’s Peoples’ Daily to the queen’s BBC, from Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post to Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller. This access to information comes with risks, but more than any time in history, a simple search on the disinformation can dispel it. No need to travel to the city to learn it isn’t true, you can figure it all out from your couch.
Some may not do this, of course. But do the people at Politico think a reader who switches their vote from Hillary to Trump because of a fake sex-trafficking ring won’t just check on this? Ironically, their own reporting shows that in order to believe an outright falsehood without question, it has to line up neatly with pre-existing conceptions. (RELATED: Snopes, Which Will Be Fact-Checking For Facebook, Employs Leftists Almost Exclusively)
And to empower a mob to decide what is censored and what is not is as dangerous as empowering a leader to do the same.
In 1929, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini said, “As civilization assumes aspects which grow more and more complicated, individual freedom becomes more and more restricted.”
This central crux of Mussolini’s method of government — that life had grown too complex for liberty, and rule by a concert of government and business was necessary — was wrong.
And the people today who say that the internet offers so much freedom of information that it must be curtailed, are wrong too. This path is a dark path. We would do well to avoid it.