Disinformation Governance Board or Ministry of Truth?
A little less than a year ago, I had written about the White House’s Dangerous War on Disinformation. Unfortunately, it’s time for a sequel.
You see, in an effort to combat disinformation, Biden’s administration has created a Disinformation Governance Board that’s to be headed by Nina Jankowicz under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security. Despite having “disinformation” in its name, which denotes intentional attempts to spread false information, the newly created Ministry of Truth—as it has come to be known by many on the Internet—will also tackle “misinformation.” Ranging from certain dossiers, laptops, and pandemic discourse, we’ve seen countless examples of how giving that role to Big Tech, let alone the government, has led to the suppression of certain narratives that have later proven true, and likewise, the spread of certain narratives that were later determined to be false.
Although I don’t believe in any forms of censorship when it comes to “misinformation” — which reflects someone’s opinion, true or false — I take somewhat of a different stance towards disinformation. A lie told effectively can travel halfway around the world before it is discovered and by then an attempt at a correction tends to be too late. Someone acting on that false information can be particularly dangerous, so, if proven to be an intentional lie that’s being spread by foreign governments or other bad actors in order to create chaos or affect behavior, perhaps there should be certain counter-measures taken. But in those cases, there’s should be a burden of proof. For example, if something can be traced back to a bot farm in Russia, an action can be taken to shut down that source.
But rather than ban disinformation altogether, perhaps there is room for innovation here. Perhaps an AI can determine if a resource is particularly untrustworthy, label it, and provide documentation on what makes the information false. Perhaps there’s a way to combine this with crowdsourcing. Whatever the solution is, I think we need to get there through new technology, not by blocking content. A more effective sunlight, if you will.
It was stated that this new Board will be "non-partisan and apolitical," but it’s not clear to me how that could actually be enforced—especially when someone who’s rather partisan is at the helm. Further, it’s not clear exactly how this disinformation will be countered. Will people be punished for spreading disinformation? Will platforms that publish it receive a penalty or warning? Details are extraordinarily vague. They should not be. Sure, it’s a newly created board, but this war on disinformation and misinformation is nothing new and without greater transparency, this board can be rather dangerous to our freedom of speech, the cornerstone of democracy. That is especially true in a world where we don’t even seem to agree on basic definitions.
The idea that the government should be trusted to determine what is true and what is false seems to suggest that we’re already well on our way towards taking up residence in a dystopian novel. It won’t be rent-free, either. Instead, what we need is more tools to help us evaluate the information we’re being presented. We need to improve media literacy, critical thinking, more refined social media algorithms, a more responsible media ecosystem, and a lot of light.
As it stands, whether it’s called "Disinformation Governance Board" or “Ministry of Truth,” the whole venture amounts to just about the same thing.
What do you think? Can the problem of ‘disinformation’ be tackled or is it impossible without creating more harm? Leave a comment below.
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