HASHTAG FAKE NEWS

Liz Warrens new fake new law reads message board moderating on a national scale.

Randi D (@wascaleywabbit)
2020-02-04
Underground Mall

This week, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed a hypothetical plan to enact a law to combat misinformation allegedly spread by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The as yet unnamed plan supposedly proposes holding “tech companies” that is to say, social media companies, accountable for “spreading misinformation”. 

What type of posts would constitute  “misinformation” is ambiguous. For instance, what if I tweet that in order to prevent pregnancy, a woman can douche with cola after unprotected sex. This is obviously not medically factual or related to an election but a commonly spread urban legend (see also: misinformation) among young people nonetheless. Would I be subject to the civil and criminal penalties referenced in her plan? 

Also unclear is exactly who would be held accountable. CEO’s of the targeted tech companies? It’s board of directors? The users of the platform? Would a user have to have the requisite mens rea in order to be found guilty under this proposal? What if someone just reposts something that is later found to be false, is the original poster and the reposter found liable? What about information that is later proven accurate after initially being thought as false? History is wrought with stories of news that were initially dismissed as untrue that was later vindicated. 

It begs the question of who would even be the arbiter of truth if this were the law? Allowing the government to be the sole decider of what is true and not true is borderline faschism. Not to mention, the sheer logistics of the government constantly monitoring all platforms of social media is staggering in it’s scope and cost. Senator Warren want to appointment an official government mod to rule us all.

One of the points on Senator Warrens website states that there will be consequences for accounts that are deemed to be spreading misinformation or funded by foreign states. One issue, I think, the plan fails to appreciate is how difficult it is to accurately identify the user of any given account. Some accounts are run by multiple people or a corporation or straight up catfish accounts. A lot of the appeal of using social media is you can be anyone you want.

It seems that her intent is to target misinformation related to political elections because she is using liberal rhetoric related to Russian interference in the 2016 election for her own ends. In order to propose a plan of such radical censorship, Warren must hold strong beliefs about the direct causation of social media misinformation and Donald Trump winning the 2016 election. She willfully overlooks Hillary Clintons own unlikability and campaign failings as a key factor. However, it’s undeniable that sites such as Facebook are used as vehicles by any number of agents to cause agitation in political processes. What’s also undeniable is that the American government has been guilty of interfering in foreign elections for decades. It seems the U.S. government isn’t too keen when it happens to them. 

Curiously, there doesn’t seem to be any reference to actual news media companies and their habitual spreading of political misinformation. The idea of holding Twitter and its users to a higher ethical and legal standard than the actual journalists in this country, is laughable. Any laws that impact free speech have collateral impact to freedom of the press. 

Censorship of media of any kind is highly undemocratic and a slippery legal slope. Social media, for better or worse, comes close to the purest form of freedom of speech of the modern era. 

It appears Twitter might already be leaning into this:

Senator Warren may have gotten this idea from Singapore and Malaysia, who recently enacted their own so called “fake news” laws.

The Singapore statute requires social media sites to behave more like actual news media by issuing retractions or corrections of proven false information, okay fair enough.  Reading on, the fact that they can also impose jail terms up to ten years for “individuals” found guilty of spreading misinformation gives me pause.

Singapore’s law went into effect in October 2019. The first incident was reported in November 2019. 

In this instance a politician was told by Singapore’s minister of finance to issue a correction to a Facebook post in which he merely opined about conflicts of interest of state investment firms. 

There have been more disturbing developments in the last few days in Malaysia amid the corona virus outbreak. 

According to the reports, Malaysian authorities conducted full on raids and arrests for social media posts as innocuous as stating that a particular train station was closed when it was not. 

The first amendment has its limitations. Over the years, the Supreme Court has codified specificity in regard to what speech is protected and what is not. Some decisions, such as hate speech not being protected, serves the public interest. Some decisions, like Citizens United, not so much. 

I would imagine even if Senator Warren doesn’t win the nomination she may propose this bill as a Senator. Regardless, if a law with such far reaching constitutional implications would result in litigation that would ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. 

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