Efforts to “Combat Misinformation” Can Lead to Greater Problems
One cannot watch much media these days without seeing a pundit from an elite journalistic or academic institution claim that this or that is “misinformation” or “disinformation.”
Claims of misinformation and disinformation have blown up over the past five years. While such claims appear to have the noble goal of spreading only factual information, do they really do so?
Let’s get these definitions straight. Misinformation refers to the spread of false or inaccurate information (whether or not it was intentional), while disinformation refers to intentionally false or misleading information used to deceive or manipulate.
Pundits argue that misinformation and disinformation undermine the pursuit of truth, erode public trust in institutions, and hamper informed decision-making among a “vulnerable” population that needs to be protected. Pundits paint pictures of severe consequences, including people failing to heed public health advice during a pandemic, the polarization of society, and the erosion of democracy.
But the pundits’ calls to deal with misinformation seldom mention their agreed-upon solution, which is censorship.
Censorship is the restriction and prohibition of free speech, which is dangerous for democracy. It is so dangerous that the United States’ Founding Fathers made freedom of speech (and freedom of religion, the press and assembly) the First Amendment of the Constitution, to guarantee the right of free speech. Governments are expressly prohibited from censorship by the Constitution. Censorship is illegal — Unconstitutional — although the pundits never tell you that.
The Founding Fathers saw first-hand that power concentrated in the hands of a few individuals led to tyranny. That is why they separated the government’s powers into three branches of government that provided checks and balances on each other. Congress, the Courts and the Executive branch would each apply a brake to the other branches if they overstepped their authority.
It is crucial to recognize that the claim of “combating misinformation” has been weaponized to maintain control and suppress dissent.
The tendency in society is for power to accumulate and for the power holders to consolidate their power. These power holders may use government itself as a tool to control information to maintain and increase their power.
When they do so we see propaganda used to control people, manipulate narratives, suppress dissent, or silence opposition voices under the guise of “combating misinformation.”
While some people cast the effort to combat misinformation as simply condescending and paternalistic, it should be made crystal clear that it is illegal. Government officials who conspire to censor the public are committing a crime and should face those they censored in a court of law. Official censorship needs to be called out as the illegal activity it is. Censorship and democracy cannot coexist.
A very important lawsuit (Missouri v. Biden) brought by the Attorneys General of Missouri and Louisiana against the federal government has brought government censorship into the open. It was revealed that the government did not only censor incorrect information. It also censored information that was entirely accurate but which the government did not want the public to see.
On July 4, 2023, Judge Terry Doughty issued a preliminary injunction in the case above, prohibiting federal agencies from communicating with social media companies for the purpose of censorship. He wrote:
“Specifically, the agencies and their staff members are prohibited from meeting or contacting by phone, email, text message or “engaging in any communication of any kind with social-media companies urging, encouraging, pressuring, or inducing in any manner for removal, deletion, suppression, or reduction of content containing protected free speech,” per the injunction.”
“Opposition to COVID-19 vaccines; opposition to COVID-19 masking and lockdowns; opposition to the lab-leak theory of COVID-19 [sic]; opposition to the validity of the 2020 election; opposition to President Biden’s policies; statements that the Hunter Biden laptop story was true; and opposition to policies of the government officials in power. All were suppressed,” Doughty wrote.
We do not need to ‘control democracy’ but instead we need ‘more democracy’ – to let speech and information be more open. To come up with the best and fairest direction for society, we need the full diversity of opinions and voices to be represented in open debate, to let honest discussion flow among citizens, and let the best arguments win.