Should the government manage 'misinformation'?


Fact Box

  • Report from Zivvy News
  • Misinformation is “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” 
  • In President Biden’s inaugural address, he asserted, “Each of us has a duty and responsibility, as citizens, as Americans, and especially as leaders - leaders who have pledged to honor our Constitution and protect our nation - to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.”
  • As of January 21, 2022, just 26% of Americans felt confident in their ability to recognize misinformation, 67% believed fake news created confusion, and 10% of Americans shared fake news knowingly. 
  • Research by Brookings found that a majority of Americans are worried about the future of democracy, especially after voter fraud allegations and misinformation in the 2020 presidential election.

Maha (Yes)

With misinformation becoming a severe threat to public interests, it is right for the government to consider managing its spread. While this sounds like a violation of the First Amendment, individuals don't have this freedom online. Martha Minnow, author of Saving the News: Why the Constitution Calls for Government Action to Preserve Freedom of Speech, explains, '[…] that kind of informal conversation about 'I have First Amendment freedom' may be a metaphor on a social media platform, but it is not a legal right. We sign terms-of-service agreements with platform companies. They're the ones that control what is communicated and what's not.'

The option of having the government manage misinformation is also gaining a lot of support. According to Pew Research, 48% of American adults are behind it, even at the expense of some freedom to access and publish content. After all, there's so much at stake. For instance, trends like the Tide Pod challenge led to over 7,000 youth risking poisoning. Similarly, a shooting incident resulted from false tweets claiming a pizza shop ran a pedophile sex ring. Both of these are some of many incidents that have led people away from safety and actually cost them their lives. 

Additionally, many governments have successfully taken measures to curb fake news. Singapore, Japan, and China have done so during the COVID-19 outbreak. Similarly, Finland's strong media literacy policies are an effective measure against fake news perpetrators. It's perhaps time to let the government and elected officials handle this aspect. It is a matter of public safety, and there are non-invasive measures they can adapt to fit the situation at hand and still honor the rights of citizens to speak freely.

Elliot (No)

The government should not manage misinformation, disinformation, or any misinformation programs, as it and its agencies are currently inherently biased toward one specific viewpoint. Concerns over corruption mean that reports against the established powers could easily be classified as 'misinformation' to protect a particular party's priorities or reputation. In many cases, the government has labeled certain stories or facts as 'misinformation' only for that information to be proven true later

A massive example in recent US history demonstrating how the government is not morally equipped to manage misinformation can be seen in its handling of the Hunter Biden email/laptop story. It was maliciously and incorrectly labeled as 'Russian disinformation' through the colluding of US government officials with the mainstream media and Big Tech. Later, both The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other outlets confirmed the story was true. Another example: leading up to the invasion of Iraq, the US told the world that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction despite not having a shred of evidence to back up their claims. The government cannot be trusted as an unbiased filter of truth. 

Citizens can decide for themselves what they want to believe. Americans are capable of critical thinking. They can do their own research and come to their own conclusions. Saying that 'only we know what information is correct' sounds dangerously like a totalitarian dictatorship. Even if you agree with an administration's 'interpretation' of the truth, what happens when a radically different leadership gets into power? How will they decide to interpret the 'truth?' The definition of misinformation would depend entirely on whoever happens to be in control. Finally, the US Constitution protects freedom of speech. Violating that right by censoring or managing 'misinformation' plainly goes against the Constitution.

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