Does Congress know the difference between misinformation and disinformation?
Either some congressional members don’t know or are purposefully conflating the two terms to build a case for a crackdown on conservative thought online.
Congress is barrelling down several paths to force greater content moderation by Big Tech. It is foolish to believe that leftist lawmakers are interested in creating a space for all viewpoints to be represented. The left has been clear that Big Tech does not do enough to police speech they oppose.
In April 2019, Democratic Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond warned Facebook and Google that they “better” restrict content he and his colleagues considered harmful or they would face “swift” and “strong” regulation that would hold them “very accountable.”
The left’s goal for policy reform is to silence voices on the right and the small constellation of news outlets that give these voices a microphone. Fighting what they call disinformation is just the latest crusade to achieve their ends.
Misinformation is as old as gossip. Disinformation has been around for quite some time too, but gained prominence recently earning Dictionary.com’s word of the year title in 2018.
Misinformation and disinformation are often used interchangeably, but there is a world of difference between the two. Both words mean false information that is spread, but the distinction is the intent.
Regular people innocently spread rumors and inaccurate information without knowing that the information is incorrect or false. That’s called misinformation.
In emergency situations, witnesses may tweet out what they see, heard or were told.
The online world is emotionally-charged, and speed often trumps accuracy.
However, the facts that emerge can invalidate false claims. Good people make mistakes, but they are still good people.
The problem is when a person spreads information that they know is wrong. His or her intention is to deceive.
This is disinformation.
The reasons people spread disinformation are myriad: financial gain, to sow discord, and simply to be destructive to name a few.
Companies and countries also engage in this nefarious behavior. Our foreign adversaries wield disinformation as a tool for geopolitical reasons.
For example, one year ago the Chinese government engaged in a propaganda campaign to persuade its people that the coronavirus originated in the U.S. and was carried to China by American soldiers.
We now know that was likely to cover their own tracks because of what they were up to in their labs.
China and Russia are actively using disinformation to attack the U.S.’s leadership, success, and progress.
Take the coronavirus vaccines, for example. The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Russian intelligence agencies have mounted a disinformation campaign to undermine Americans’ confidence in vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc. and other Western companies.
Russia likely wants to slow down national efforts to vaccinate as many people as possible. And it’s working according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
Disinformation is certainly a problem, but lawmakers on the left appear more focused on using tech and other companies to hammer conservatives rather than Russia and China.
They are building support for speech crackdowns by conflating the unwitting shares of inaccurate information with the willful spread of lies and falsehoods for harmful purposes. Most importantly, they are willing to violate constitutional First Amendment rights to do so.
In the past, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats have called on advertisers to forgo social media companies that do not crack down on misinformation or disinformation. But some, like Rep. Jerry Nadler, see pressuring social media companies to crack down on speech as the first step toward greater government regulation.
Social media companies aren’t their only targets. Recently, two Democratic congressmen sent letters to CEOs of a dozen cable and satellite providers to pressure them to ax several cable networks that feature right-leaning opinions because “the right-wing media ecosystem” is “much more susceptible…to disinformation, lies, and half-truths.”
They claimed these outlets all aired “misinformation about the November 2020 elections” and allude to their culpability in the mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Do lawmakers really believe that these networks intended to harm their viewers by airing viewpoints from various perspectives?
A House subcommittee hearing days entitled “Disinformation and Extremism in the Media,” confirmed that they do believe this and that the end goal is to silence conservative speech.
One of the hearing witnesses noted, “there has to be a will among the political elite and the media elite and the technology elite to actually do the right thing.”
The Wall Street Journal editorial board interpreted that statement to mean that Congress should tighten regulations on speech to censor or block conservatives—and, whatever it can’t do by law, tech companies and other businesses should accomplish through their own policies and enforcement.
Of course, these leftist media critics entirely ignore CNN and MSNBC’s years-long embarrassing obsession that President Trump’s campaign was infiltrated by the Kremlin. But this isn’t just about confirmation bias and hypocrisy.
This is about an utter disregard for the basic concept of what free and open debate is supposed to mean.
Shutting down your opponents isn’t doing the right thing. That’s simply censorship.
And the Left is slinking into dangerous and totalitarian territory by trying to advance it.