I Used to Think the Remedy for Bad Speech Was More Speech. Not Anymore.

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maestrob
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I Used to Think the Remedy for Bad Speech Was More Speech. Not Anymore.

Post by maestrob » Fri Apr 02, 2021 12:54 pm

How kids, lawsuits and legislation can save democracy.


By Timothy Egan
Contributing Opinion Writer

April 2, 2021

I used to believe that the remedy for bad speech is more speech. Now that seems archaic. Just as the founders never envisioned how the right of a well-regulated militia to own slow-loading muskets could apply to mass murderers with bullet-spewing military-style semiautomatic rifles, they could not have foreseen speech so twisted to malevolent intent as it is now.

Cyber-libertarianism, the ethos of the internet with roots in 18th century debate about the free market of ideas, has failed us miserably. Well after the pandemic is over, the infodemic will rage on — so long as it pays to lie, distort and misinform.

Just recently, we saw the malignancies of our premier freedoms on display in the mass shooting in Boulder, Colo. At the center of the horror was a deeply disturbed man with a gun created for war, with the capacity to kill large numbers of humans, quickly. Within hours of the slaughter at the supermarket, a Facebook account with about 60,000 followers wrote that the shooting was fake — a so-called false flag, meant to cast blame on the wrong person.

So it goes. Toxic misinformation, like AR-15 style weapons in the hands of men bent on murder, is just something we’re supposed to live with in a free society. But there are three things we could do now to clean up the river of falsities poisoning our democracy.

First, teach your parents well. Facebook users over the age of 65 are far more likely to post articles from fake news sites than people under the age of 30, according to multiple studies.

Certainly, the “I don’t know it for a fact, I just know it’s true” sentiment, as the Bill Maher segment has it, is not limited to seniors. But too many older people lack the skills to detect a viral falsity.


That’s where the kids come in. March 18 was “MisinfoDay” in many Washington State high schools. On that day, students were taught how to spot a lie — training they could share with their parents and grandparents.

Media literacy classes have been around for a while. No one should graduate from high school without being equipped with the tools to recognize bogus information. It’s like elementary civics. By extension, we should encourage the informed young to pass this on to their misinformed elders.

Second: Sue. What finally made the misinformation merchants on television and the web close the spigot on the Big Lie about the election were lawsuits seeking billions. Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic, two election technology companies, sued Fox News and others, claiming defamation.

“Lies have consequences,” Dominion’s lawyers wrote in their complaint. “Fox sold a false story of election fraud in order to serve its own commercial purposes, severely injuring Dominion in the process.”

In response to the Smartmatic suit, Fox said, “This lawsuit strikes at the heart of the news media’s First Amendment mission to inform on matters of public concern.” No, it doesn’t. There is no “mission” to misinform.

The fraudsters didn’t even pretend they weren’t peddling lies. Sidney Powell, the attorney who was one of the loudest promoters of the falsehood that Donald Trump won the election, was named in a Dominion lawsuit. “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact,” her attorneys wrote, absurdly, of her deception.

Tell that to the majority of Republican voters who said they believed the election was stolen. They didn’t see the wink when Powell went on Fox and Newsmax to claim a massive voter fraud scheme.

Dominion should sue Mr. Trump, the man at the top of the falsity food chain. The ex-president has shown he will repeat a lie over and over until it hurts him financially. That’s how the system works. And the bar for a successful libel suit, it should be noted, is very high.

Finally, we need to dis-incentivize social media giants from spreading misinformation. This means striking at the algorithms that drive traffic — the lines of code that push people down rabbit holes of unreality.

The Capitol Hill riot on Jan. 6 might not have happened without the platforms that spread false information, while fattening the fortunes of social media giants.

“The last few years have proven that the more outrageous and extremist content social media platforms promote, the more engagement and advertising dollars they rake in,” said Representative Frank Pallone Jr., chairman of the House committee that recently questioned big tech chief executives.

Taking away their legal shield — Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — is the strongest threat out there. Sure, removing social media’s immunity from the untruthful things said on their platforms could mean the end of the internet as we know it. True. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

So far, the threat has been mostly idle — all talk. At the least, lawmakers could more effectively use this leverage to force social media giants to redo their recommendation algorithms, making bogus information less likely to spread. When YouTube took such a step, promotion of conspiracy theories decreased significantly, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who published their findings in March 2020.

Republicans may resist most of the above. Lies help them stay in power, and a misinformed public is good for their legislative agenda. They’re currently pushing a wave of voter suppression laws to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.

I still believe the truth may set us free. But it has little chance of surviving amid the babble of orchestrated mendacity.

Timothy Egan (@nytegan) is a contributing opinion writer who covers the environment, the American West and politics. He is a winner of the National Book Award and author, most recently, of “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/02/opin ... e=Homepage

Rach3
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Re: I Used to Think the Remedy for Bad Speech Was More Speech. Not Anymore.

Post by Rach3 » Fri Apr 02, 2021 5:44 pm

The Founders never dreamed that 40 % of the population would be self-centered suckers, or that much of the media would be propaganda shills , not "news". If so, they may have crafted the 1st Amendment more precisely, or simply still concluded , " A democracy, if you can keep it ", a challenge to which we have not been equal since the Greatest Generation.

maestrob
Posts: 10211
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 11:30 am

Re: I Used to Think the Remedy for Bad Speech Was More Speech. Not Anymore.

Post by maestrob » Sat Apr 03, 2021 7:51 am

Rach3 wrote:
Fri Apr 02, 2021 5:44 pm
The Founders never dreamed that 40 % of the population would be self-centered suckers, or that much of the media would be propaganda shills , not "news". If so, they may have crafted the 1st Amendment more precisely, or simply still concluded , " A democracy, if you can keep it ", a challenge to which we have not been equal since the Greatest Generation.
Given the decision from our Conservative Supreme Court to invalidate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and just days ago to deregulate media ownership, I couldn't agree more.

We MUST find a way to create something new akin to the Fairness Doctrine and reimpose ownership restrictions, especially in smaller cities, before it's too late.

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