The crusades against what is deemed fake news continue to rage on. Yet, just like every crusade, nobody stops to ask the important questions of what is being done and why. We’ll try to answer those questions and ask more relevant ones in this article.
What Is Fake News Even?
Let’s ask Wikipedia:
“Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.”
That may seem like a clear definition, but it’s more complicated than that. The most famous utterance of the phrase “fake news” came from Donald Trump. He said that in relation to a CNN article that covered a very sketchy intelligence document. Even if the document was completely false, that wouldn’t make the CNN reports “fake news.” At least not technically. But could we really claim that an article written on such sketchy basis is true news?
If the President of the United States can’t have a clear definition of fake news, then how can we launch campaigns against it? And would that fight result in anything good?
You can’t defend fake news, and that’s the problem
“When the Nazis and Communists first came to Czechoslovakia, they declared war on pornographers and perverts. Everyone applauded: who wants perverts running through the streets? But then, suddenly, Jesus Christ was a pervert, Shakespeare was a pervert, Hemingway was a pervert. It always starts with pornographers to open the door a little, but then the door is opened wide for all kinds of persecution.”
– Milos Forman
Similar to pornographers and perverts, fake news creators do something that’s very hard to defend. But that doesn’t excuse censorship.
Some people will always demand the suppression of what they deem hate speech. While they may be right in some isolated instances, those that demand censorship misses the big picture.
The problem of the crusade against censorship is simple – the tools used to fight fake news can be used against real news easily.
Half of the battle against truth is won by simply gaining the rights to censor fake news.
While we can’t defend fake news, we can fight censorship.
Intellectual Totalitarianism and The Suppression of Opposition
Let’s look at places where the censorship of Web content is already a fact:
Turkey blocks access to key social media websites whenever their government is up to something fishy.
Millions of users in Iran use encrypted apps like Telegram out of fear from their own government. The creator of Telegram, Pavel Durov, Iran has requested “spying and censorship tools” from his company, which he allegedly declined.
Facebook doesn’t have the same moral restraints. They have collaborated with Germany, the United States, and reportedly even the totalitarian communist regime in China in the development of censorship tools.
This track record makes it very hard to believe that the censors of the world are really against fake news and aren’t just using it as an excuse for censorship. Could we really entrust all of that power to block content to governments and organizations who have such questionable history? That’s the more important thing to ask.