This article (“Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave — Deception spreads faster than truth on “social media,” Summer issue) is certainly timely, comprehensive, and provocative, thereby serving the important purpose of prompting reasoned discussion of topics which are critical to the nature of our society. However, it is based upon several questionable, if not faulty, premises.
First, it refers to “disinformation” being problematic for society but does not clearly define the term. This seems to be a common fallacy in this context; the day I read this article in the Bulletin, I came upon an article on the NPR website discussing the views of U.S. Surgeon General Murthy that disinformation is the major threat we face in the fight against COVID-19. It, too, failed to define the term, suggesting that it referred to information inconsistent with his favored approach.
Second and closely related to the first point above is the fact that in many fields, there is not and cannot be a static view of “high-quality information” in the words of Mr. Haidar appearing in your article. We have seen in recent years in many fields how today’s quackery becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy as ideas are tested in what you believe to be the disfavored marketplace of ideas. Perhaps such a marketplace should not be disfavored?
Third, even assuming arguendo that a static view of information is in order, your article expressly advocates for some sort of board or tribunal to vet and categorize information and take steps to exclude from public (or all?) discourse that which is found wanting. Not being possessed of supernatural powers, I cannot imagine how any individual or group is intellectually or temporally capable of performing such a function in multiple fields. Perhaps good, old-fashioned dialogue is at least a more efficient approach.
The final express premise with which I take issue is that the internet has made more urgent the need for the oversight which you discuss. While the internet certainly increases the velocity of information, it did not introduce the concept of people communicating with each other, whether physically in a public square, over the telephone, through print media, or otherwise. Our First Amendment has withstood an increase in information velocity occasioned by new technologies and population growth and served us well, absent the harms which you posit. It should not be taken as given that increased information velocity is per se dangerous.
Your article appears to be a call for drastic deviations from our traditional First Amendment regime. Applying the customary approach of the Supreme Court in such situations, namely strict scrutiny, tells me that the case has not been made. On balance, whether we are dealing with wars, a pandemic, economic disruption, or other things, I’ll take unfettered debate as the best way of getting to the “right” public policy answer.
Martin B. Robins ’80
Barrington Hills, Illinois