Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Destructive anti-“fake news” measures

with 2 comments

One of the worst parts of the whole fake-news-and-whatnot debates are attempts by e.g. Facebook, Twitter, and Google to filter what others read. I point e.g. to the recent interventions of Twitter against Trump’s twittering (cf. e.g. [1]) or repeated complaints by Ron Unz that his website(s) has been recently thrown off Facebook and severely punished in Google’s search rankings (at least [2], [3], [4]).* The move, e.g. in Germany, towards laws that would increasingly force Internet services to perform such censorship or distortion is horrifying.

*To boot, Ron Unz seems to have been hit in an entirely unfair and illogical manner, based on guilt by association, despite his site being intended for free speech from any and all direction. (But beware that I have only skimmed through the linked-to articles—they are quite long.)

In the current free-speech crisis this is a disaster—and it would be so, even if the distortions were guaranteed to be introduced fairly and competently. In reality, however, more-or-less the opposite is guaranteed. (Cf. earlier texts, notably [5].)

Such interventions will not only reduce free speech for e.g. ignorants, but will also cause both true statements to be censored and highly legitimate opinions to be drowned out, cementing existing opinion corridors. A particular danger is that services like Facebook will tend to over-censor based on complaints, e.g. that a dozen people write in and says “this text is racist” causing Facebook to delete it to avoid criticism, controversy, or legal measures, even when the text was nothing of the kind.*

*I am not aware of Facebook’s current policy and behavior, but I did repeatedly observe exactly this type of behavior for comments on Swedish online news-papers some ten to fifteen years ago, when I still read them. Someone complains about e.g. xenophobia and a comment was gone—regardless of whether the comment was xenophobic and whether there was some value to it. (Whether one of mine was ever affected, I do not remember, but I have plenty of own experiences from e.g. Feminist blogs. Cf. many texts from my early years on WordPress.)

A good example is the COVID-19 debates and how certain opinions are deemed inviolably true and others “fake news” in a situation where the actual scientific knowledge is/was* limited and even highly qualified experts often disagreed—indeed, even statements by a highly qualified expert were considered “fake news”, if they did not adhere to “the official truth”. Or consider topics like IQ, where the near scientific consensus among experts is overruled by journalist, politicians, and social scientists making claims outside their area of expertise (and very often driven by ideology to boot).

*The state of knowledge is still (2020-05-27) highly incomplete, but it is much, much better than a few months ago. Still, the “fake news” claims where present even back then …

Looking at Trump (cf. [1]), apparently:

Twitter slapped a warning label on one of President Trump’s tweets for the first time on Tuesday, cautioning readers that despite the president’s claims, “fact checkers” say there is “no evidence” that mail-in voting would increase fraud risks – and that “experts say mail-in ballots are very rarely linked to voter fraud.”

Firstly, the fear, even outright opinion, that mail-in ballots would increase the risk of fraud is perfectly legitimate and nothing that e.g. Twitter should interfere with. Should someone be of the opposite opinion, have strong counter-arguments or references to solid research, whatnot—then twitter back. To find the truth, to allow the individual to form his own opinions, etc., we need debate and not various types of censorship and imposition of “truth”.

Secondly, how do we now that the “fact checkers” are worth their salt? Competent and unbiased? Who, at all, are they? Are we talking a group of neutral leading political scientists (or whoever might have expertise on mail-in ballots) or two Democrat-voting, minimum-wage Twitter employees sitting in a basement? Similarly, what experts? What do other experts say?* Etc.

*While I have no own knowledge in the area, I note that [1] claims e.g. “[…] several experts have called mail-in balloting an invitation to widespread fraud.” and “”Absentee ballots remain the largest source of potential voter fraud,” read the conclusion of a bipartisan 2005 report authored by the Commission on Federal Election Reform, […]”, which makes it likely that the issue cannot be written off as e.g. a “real medicine vs. homeopathy” stand-off. (And, unlike with homeopathy, the claim is not ludicrous a priori.)

The current trend must be turned on its head: Laws must non-negotiably require various service providers to deliver all contents, not obviously illegal*, that a user publishes unaltered, unabridged, uncommented, uncensored, un-discriminated-against (in e.g. search rankings). Moreover, they must required e.g. that everyone is accepted as a user on the same terms**, irrespective of e.g. political beliefs and how many others might disapprove. Should e.g. the government, the PC crowd, the film industry want to shut-down or censor a user, they will have to target*** that user on their own. The only action allowed, barring a court order of some kind, by the service providers is to provide the complainants with enough information to proceed—and even that might, depending on the exact situation, require a court-order. (This notably when a reasonable anonymity, a pre-requisite for free speech in e.g. dictatorships, would be threatened—say that a Chinese dissident uses an anonymous U.S. service, that the Chinese government request his name and address, and that the service provider just hands it out.)

*Some types of file sharing or child-pornography, e.g., might fall in the category “obviously illegal”.

**These terms might, however, include provisions that are fair and relevant, e.g. that certain services require payment (from all users …) or exclude minors.

***By notifying the police, filing a civil lawsuit, requesting a court order, or what might be appropriate in any given case.

More generally, the common attitude that “I have the right to change statements by others as I see fit” must disappear. Cf. e.g. various texts on distortions by WordPress (if comparatively minor) or the absolutely inexcusable comment manipulations by Emvie Martin—which make me hope that there is a hell so that she can burn in it. Her behavior was so far beyond the acceptable that there should be a law against it.

Excursion on “the official truth” (“den officiella sanningen”):
This phrase was already quite popular in Sweden certainly fifteen, possibly even twenty, years ago, e.g. with regard to gender-feminist pseudo-science, which was thoroughly disproved by real science, yet held sway among journalists and politicians (and, sadly, still does). Over the last few years, many other countries have caught up and the phrase is highly relevant for e.g. the current U.S.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 27, 2020 at 7:36 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] and is paradoxically attacked for threatening freedom of speech … (Also see portions of [2], but note that I was unaware of Trump’s recent executive order, which goes somewhat in the same […]

  2. […] Some of her writings have been sufficiently good that I had already contemplated adding her to my blogroll. In light of her recent ban from Twitter (as I mentioned earlier today), I will do so as an act of anti-censorship solidarity. This especially as UNZ, as a whole, has already been affected by similar recent attacks, as discussed in a recent text on misguided anti-“fake news” measures. […]

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