Nonsense-filled online stories have become the new scourge of pundits, politicos and the democratic establishment alike. Recently, Hillary Clinton (who has spent the month since her defeat staring into the distance on a cob-webbed rocking chair) ventured out in public to claim that fake news has “flooded social media over the past year,” and is a trend that “can have real world consequences.”
She added: “It’s imperative that leaders from the private sector and the public sector step up to protect our democracy – and innocent lives”.
First, let’s take a break to laugh at the idea of Hillary Clinton coming out against lying… All done? Okay.
Secondly, fake news did not cost the Democrats the election. Yes, there were garbage stories about her running an evil pizza shop. Or organizing satanic rituals. Or personally killing opponents as if she was Frank Underwood (the difference being that Hillary has a Southern accent only when she thinks it’ll win her voters).
If you were willing to believe such stories, you were probably never going to vote for Clinton anyway.
If the Democrats genuinely want to understand their loss, they would be better off looking to their candidate’s real flaws: decades of corruption, lying, and wanting to bomb anywhere with a desert, then proceeding to blame imagined people, and tell stories that no-one in their right mind could believe.
However, the continued whining from the Hillary camp isn’t the main problem here.
As much as I would like to see strong opposition to Trump, if the Democratic Party would rather keep losing elections than fix its problems, so be it.
Neither is the condescending implication of this “crisis” (that the majority of people aren’t smart enough to see a story claiming that Barack Obama is a secret Kenyan warlord and think: “Eh, that might not true.”) the main problem.
What’s scary is the reference to the “public sector” being involved in removing fake news. The government involved in deciding which stories are true and which are false.
The foreboding implications of the government selectively censoring information are obvious, even if it’s bogus information (i.e. claiming Bernie Sanders secretly drowns cats or that Mitt Romney is interesting).
Allow the government to filter news – and watch as “untrue” and “inconvenient to the government” become the same thing. Although, on the plus side, at least a real-life Ministry of Truth would save people the hassle of reading Nineteen Eighty-Four.
There’s a reason we have the First Amendment: because allowing the government to censor the news may not only lead to a 1984-like situation in the future; even in the present it would run completely contrary to the values of free and open expression that America was founded upon!
I’m not saying fake news isn’t a problem. As a journalist, I find the idea of deliberately misinforming people unethical. The fact that most people don’t fall for them does not make the attempt to deceive them any less immoral.
The solution won’t come from government: If you want to defeat fake news – then use real facts – and point out nonsense stories for what they are. The internet may have allowed anyone with a keyboard to tap out any nonsense they want; but it also allows anyone to fact-check that nonsense.
Point out fake news stories – even mock them; but don’t let the government ban them. If we care about the First Amendment, even bollocks stories must be allowed to exist.
* Luke Terry is a freelance journalist who has written about libertarianism for Spiked, LibertarianHome, and others. He freelances comedy content and regularly performs stand-up on the London circuit. Follow him on Twitter at @Vitrioholic