In their zeal to stamp out “fake news,” European governments are turning toward Orwellian solutions that are worse than the disease.
The European Commission recently created a 39-member panel to explore avenues to eliminate fake news. On Twitter, it announced that it seeks to find a “balanced approach” to protecting free speech and making sure citizens get “reliable information.”
Jarrett Stepman, editor for The Daily Signal writes: This follows in the footsteps of individual governments in Europe that have decided that the way to defeat fake news is to have the government decide what the truth is.
Germany recently enacted a law that allows the government to censor social media and fine related companies that won’t take down what government officials deem fake news or hate speech.
France isn’t far behind. French President Emmanuel Macron proposed a ban on fake news, especially around election time, “in order to protect democracy.”
And on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May announced the creation of a commission to respond to fake news called the National Security Communications Unit.
A spokesperson for the May government said: “Digital communications is constantly evolving and we are looking at ways to meet the challenging media landscape by harnessing the power of new technology for good.”
The key problem with these proposals is obvious, as the Washington Examiner highlighted in an editorial.
“One must ask who will decide which news is real and respectable, on the one hand, and which, on the other, is fake and must be censored?” the Examiner asked, before referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”:
Will it be bureaucrats in a censor’s office in a bigger agency? Or, will their work be so extensive and important that they will need a new agency of their own? Will they go the full Orwell and name it the Ministry of Truth?
As Alexis de Tocqueville, the famed 19th-century French observer of American institutions, wrote of such government-controlled speech:
Whoever should be able to create and maintain a tribunal of this kind would waste his time in prosecuting the liberty of the press; for he would be the absolute master of the whole community and would be as free to rid himself of the authors as of their writings.
Censorship of this sort is what the Founding Fathers feared. They knew that despite the problems occasionally caused by the proliferation of fake news and false ideas, it was far more dangerous to make the government the arbiter of what is true and false rather than citizens.
Therefore, the Founders created the First Amendment and instilled a culture that respected the individual right to free speech. This was the best and perhaps only way, in the fallible world of men, ultimately to get to the truth.
There is ample evidence that the proliferation of fake news has far less consequential impact than doomsayers would admit.
A recent study concluded that while fake news often spreads far with the help of tools such as social media, it has a shallow impact on what Americans believe. This begs the question of why near-authoritarian measures would be implemented that so badly undermine free speech rights.
For all the worry over foreign, authoritarian regimes manipulating our elections with propaganda, by implementing government-run commissions on fake news we will simply be turning to repressive means to solve this perceived problem.
What European ruling bureaucrats don’t admit is that average people are just as smart or more intelligent than they are. Most know the difference between the cow and poop as illustrated below.