Publisher, Bill Collier- People who spread misinformation are a bane to our existence, especially when they do so knowingly and also when they don’t do the basic due diligence necessary to screen out ridiculous claims. The problem is that the definition of misinformation, like other bogeyman fears being used to perpetuate authoritarianism, gets all too broad and the response becomes both immediately draconian, canceling the malefactors from the digital commons, and unforgiving, never giving a path to redemption or rehabilitation.
Democrats have more concern for rehabilitating gangs and criminals than they do for people who they deem worthy of digital banishment within a society whose best opportunities and social activities exist mostly within and through the digital commons.
The latest gambit by yet about President to resort to fear-mongering and broad generalizations in order to throttle discourse, wherein platforms are being nudged by government to do what it cannot do and ruin the lives of people whose speech the Democrats (in this case) don’t fancy, is likely to be nuked from orbit by the courts. Making a private entity an agent of a government policy that seeks to punish, albeit not through legal means, anyone they deem to be spreading misinformation is not going to survive many court proceedings.
What is more, the creators of a new web 3.0 digital commons are bound to look askance at any government telling them and their digital communities who to banish! Within 20 years, we predict, all those platforms that “cooperate” in digital banishment for too weak a cause will be left behind in the coming digital age. Digital communities with maximum participatory self-governance and fraternal connections as their basis will eventually, slowly but surely, replace platforms as the new digital commons.
The national pastime of labeling everything you and your Party disagree with “misinformation” is too well established for most fair-minded people to think anyone, including a privately owned platform, is standing on strong moral ground when they arbitrarily label content disinformation and use it to do real social and economic harm to people through banishment from the digital commons.
Even if we agree a private platform has great latitude in who it banishes, this doesn’t mean we think their trigger-happy approach to banishment using opaque standards that cannot be consistently applied with rigor is a good idea morally or for the long-term health of the platform. We certainly think it is a good idea to view any “collaboration” between massive, near-monopoly platforms where the digital commons mostly exists (and outside of which individuals will increasingly face a reduction in opportunities and social connections), with grave concern.
Not all cooperation is bad. But too much can blur the line between state and platform in such a way that an essentially private digital commons is de facto, even if not de jure, molded by a state controlled by a Party with strong authoritarian leanings.
It is true, actual misinformation can harm people. If you put it out there that everyone from one demographic are a hazard to justice or equity or anything, when that’s a gross exaggeration or generalization, that’s misinformation. It’s wrong. It should be called out and confronted and if a direct link between the propagation of that misinformation and real harm to other can be proven, then criminal persecution isn’t off the table. A tort has occurred.
People saying patently false and provably inaccurate things that cause harm to others, where a direct link can be proven, should face consequences, including civil lawsuits.
But we know Democrats today, and it could be Republicans tomorrow, tend to paint a rather broad stroke when they invoke the accusation of misinformation. This is the reason why one Jen Psaki, the Press Secretary, doubling down on the government “working with” (pressuring) platforms to banish people from the digital commons for anything the White House deems “misinformation” is such a hyperbolic non-starter.
The otherwise charming and adroit Press Secretary has clearly become divorced from that strong American tradition of tolerance: e.g. “I might not like or agree with what you say but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”
The Press Secretary could have clearly stated that if people are illegally spreading falsehoods to gain profit (and clicks are profit) that are harming people that the government urges platforms to be proactive in flagging that. But we know that talk of the possibility a certain virus had its genesis in a lab in China became prima facae evidence of misinformation that was banishable! Now that theory is revived and is not misinformation. Sadly, those already banished for stating that theory remain banished.
The administration has a few hobby horses such as “muh white supremacy” and racism, the election, the January 6th “insurrection”, climate change, and the virus all of which include some degree of accusing anyone who disagrees of “misinformation.” It is therefore a bad faith claim to say that the spirit behind such nonsensical and untenable rhetoric about banishing people for misinformation is at all about public safety.
We would perhaps be more worried if this wasn’t just more rhetorical flash to appease the authoritarian base of the Democratic Party and if it wasn’t so laughably untenable both from a legal and public support perspective. We would not be surprised to find such “collaboration” is anything more than happy talk and that no real collaboration is happening.
The public aren’t ready to let Jen Psaki, or even Donald Trump, become the arbiter of what is or isn’t misinformation and the trend toward banishment from the digital commons is going to boomerang “bigly” on the technocrats and their Democratic Party pals. Web 3.0, the digital commons built around diverse digital communities within a decentralized but compatible ecosystem, is coming and it couldn’t come soon enough.