The concept of policing “misinformation” has always been fraught with overtones of Big Brother and tyranny. And yet, Democrats and their allies have been pushing companies like Facebook and Twitter to ban speech they label “misinformation” that is really just disagreement with the dominant narrative that passes for “truth” these days.
There is always room for debate or discussion. Even if something is self-evidently false, should it be shut down and labeled misinformation? Liberals and social media companies think it should be.
The risk is great as we’ve all discovered with the evolution of the lab-leak theory from “misinformation” to a subject worthy of debate. Where do PJ Media and other conservative news sites go to recover lost income from spurious claims that our content contained misinformation?
If we’ve reached the point where the people cannot decide for themselves if something is worthy of discussion or so far out of bounds the subject must be ignored, then the republic is already dead and doesn’t realize it.
But many lab-leak foes had not merely called the theory unproven. They had lobbied for the theory’s adherents to be effectively silenced. They asserted that anyone discussing it was a conspiracy theorist or even a racist. Indeed, some are still discouraging this conversation.
“I & other AAPIs are increasingly concerned that speculation over the lab leak theory will increase anti-Asian hate,” tweeted Leana Wen, a professor of public health and CNN medical analyst, earlier this week. “As we embark on a full scientific investigation, we must take actions to prevent the next escalation of anti-Asian racism.”
Are we now to limit or eliminate discussion on issues because they might offend someone? These are not only issues of science, but of public policy as well. And bringing race into the debate is not helpful.
Yet it’s clear that a certain segment of lab-leak critics believed two things: 1) the theory would fan the flames of racism, and 2) for that reason, it should be proactively censored. Such is the slipperiness of the misinformation label, which has come to include all sorts of claims that are not straightforwardly false.
How about the Hunter Biden laptop story that was eagerly suppressed by both Facebook and Twitter, labeling those linking or writing about the laptop with the misinformation moniker? Some of that story, at least, has been shown to be absolutely true. And while the provenance of the laptop may raise unrelated questions, no one is denying the emails may be authentic.
How does social media appear to be marching in lockstep with mainstream media when it comes to deciding which stories to boost and which to suppress?
Big Tech takes its cues from the mainstream media, making decisions about which articles to boost or suppress based on the prevailing wisdom coming from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elite media fact-checkers.
If a “fact” doesn’t fit the dominant media narrative about a subject — the 2020 election or the lab-leak hypothesis — it can be labeled “misinformation” because the right people have declared it to be so. There’s got to be a better way to “police” the internet than leaving decisions like this in the hands of a few biased — even partisan — fact-checkers.
The Capitol riot is a good example.
But some of the early reporting about what transpired at the Capitol also turned out to be false. Most notably, an angry MAGA mob did not bludgeon Officer Brian Sicknick to death with a fire extinguisher, as The New York Times and Associated Press initially claimed. It later emerged that Sicknick had suffered a stroke, yet no one called on Facebook to ban the AP. The defining characteristic of modern campaigns to police misinformation is naked partisanship.
No doubt the social media giants will claim that AP shouldn’t be banned because most of what they publish is “true.” But where’s the tipping point? When do AP falsehoods add up to those made by other outlets already banned?
Maybe the lesson to be learned from the lab-leak fiasco in the media is that less arrogance and elitism would allow more points of view to be heard and discussed.