Elizabeth Warren, aka Pocahontas, the Pale-Faced Indian, has a plan to combat the rampant disinformation on social media and the Internet. This is a growing problem since the lies that are spread unchallenged over the web keep people from making the right decisions like voting for Democrats.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday released a plan to fight disinformation and to hold tech companies accountable for their actions in light of the 2016 election.
“Disinformation and online foreign interference erode our democracy, and Donald Trump has invited both,” Warren said in a Tweet Wednesday. “Anyone who seeks to challenge and defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election must be fully prepared to take this on – and I’ve got a plan to do it.”
“I will push for new laws that impose tough civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating this kind of information, which has the explicit purpose of undermining the basic right to vote,” Warren said in a release.
According to Warren, we need to control the information that voters have access to protect their right to vote. That seems to be rather an Orwellian statement. Warren goes on.
“The stakes of this election are too high — we need to fight the spread of false information that disempowers voters and undermines democracy,” Warren said. “I’ll do my part — and I’m calling on my fellow candidates and big tech companies to do their part too.”
I am sure that I am not the only one who suspects that politicians and government agencies might not be entirely evenhanded and unbiased when it comes to determining what is fake news and disinformation. Authoritarian governments have typically punished the bearers of news that might make them look bad in much the same way as Warren proposed, even if, or especially if the information is entirely accurate. The old Soviet Union did not permit any news, such as airplane crashes, nuclear power plant failures, or the level of crime, that might lead anyone to suspect that the Soviet system wasn’t as perfect as the government claimed. I am sure that the government of China has not bothered to tell its people the full extent of the dangers of the coronavirus.
But aside from such concerns, and the equally obvious question of whether Senator Warren’s proposal is compatible with the First Amendment, there is a more fundamental issue here, who is responsible for deciding what is disinformation? Are we, the American people, responsible adults who are capable of deciding for themselves what sources to trust, or are we ignorant children who need someone like Senator Warren to sort it out for us? The essential premise behind censorship or government control over information is that it is for the protection of the people, who are unable to decide for themselves what might be false or harmful information. For this reason, the Roman Catholic Church used to promulgate an Index of Forbidden Books, a list of books deemed dangerous for laypeople to read lest they come to question the faith. For the same reason, the church discouraged the private reading of the Bible. People needed guidance from the clergy since they were obviously too ignorant to decide matters of faith for themselves. The kings and emperors of old all routinely employed censorship to protect their subjects from dangerous ideas, like maybe kings and emperors were not really needed all that much. The Nazis burned and banned un-German books, to keep the master race from being defiled, and the Communists kept the workers from reading anything which might give them the false impression that they were not living in the Workers’ paradise.
This reasoning is justified in an authoritarian polity, in which the government takes a paternal interest in the physical and spiritual welfare of its subjects. It is antithetical in a democratic polity in which the people’s representatives make up the government. It is not up to Senator Elizabeth Warren, or anyone else in the government to tell us what is disinformation. It is up to us, the people to educate ourselves to learn how to tell the difference between trustworthy and untrustworthy information, and if we are not willing to do this, if we would rather the likes of Senator Warren do our thinking for us, rather than thinking for ourselves, then we do not deserve to be free.
This, then, is part of the larger question of what sort of country we want to live in. Do we wish to be free citizens in a free republic in which we get to decide who to trust and how to live or do we want to be serfs in a country in which our alleged betters decide such things for us? Elizabeth Warren, and really the whole pack of Democratic candidates, seem to be in favor of the latter course. I prefer to be free.