Real dan­ger not fake news – it’s cen­sor­ship

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By BETSY McCAUGHEY ­Betsy­ McCaughey ­is ­a ­se­nior-fel­low ­at ­the ­Lon­don­ Cen­ter ­for­Pol­icy-­ Re­search ­and ­a ­for­mer-lieu­tenant ­gov­er­nor­ of ­New ­York­ - State.

So­cial me­dia gi­ants like Twit­ter and Face­book that used to brag about pro­mot­ing free speech now say they’re tak­ing on a new role — the speech po­lice.

Twit­ter is sus­pend­ing as many as a mil­lion ac­counts a day, with 70 mil­lion si­lenced in May and June, ac­cord­ing to data dis­closed re­cently. The mas­sive purge is to pre­vent the spread of fake news, Twit­ter says. The prob­lem is this: Who de­cides what’s fake?

Democrats in Congress are en­cour­ag­ing the crack­down. They point to how Rus­sians set up so­cial me­dia ac­counts and flooded the in­ter­net with phony news and in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric in the months be­fore the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, and ac­cord­ing to spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, tilted it in fa­vor of Don­ald Trump. At a Se­nate hear­ing, Dianne Fe­in­stein (D-Calif.) or­dered lawyers for Face­book, Twit­ter and Google to do some­thing about it “or we will.”

Don’t be fooled by these calls to “clean up” the in­ter­net in or­der to pro­tect our democ­racy. Fake news, hate­ful re­marks and Rus­sians im­per­son­at­ing Amer­i­cans are not as dan­ger­ous to our democ­racy as Sil­i­con Val­ley’s mis­guided drive to­ward cen­sor­ship.

It’s prob­a­bly true that Rus­sians tried to med­dle with pub­lic opin­ion to tip the elec­tion in Trump’s fa­vor. But the Rus­sians’ an­tics, laid out in an in­dict­ment by spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller, are laugh­ably un­threat­en­ing.

The 13 Rus­sians named in the in­dict­ment cre­ated thou­sands of Face­book, In­sta­gram and Twit­ter ac­counts and posted mes­sages like “Choose Peace and Vote for Jill Stein. Trust me, it’s not a wasted vote.” This is the voter ma­nip­u­la­tion we’re sup­posed to be ter­ri­fied by?

Mueller’s in­dict­ment says this tiny crew of Rus­sians “en­gaged in op­er­a­tions pri­mar­ily in­tended to com­mu­ni­cate deroga­tory in­for­ma­tion about Hil­lary Clin­ton, to den­i­grate other can­di­dates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Ru­bio, and to sup­port Bernie San­ders and then-can­di­date Don­ald Trump.”

For­eign shenani­gans are noth­ing new. You wouldn’t be hear­ing about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence if Hil­lary Clin­ton had won.

Far more per­ilous to our democ­racy is the mis­guided ex­pec­ta­tion that global so­cial me­dia com­pa­nies should act as the Min­istry of Truth, like in Ge­orge Or­well’s novel “Nine­teen Eighty-Four.”

Face­book’s at­tempt at polic­ing is pro­duc­ing com­i­cal fail­ures. In the run-up to July Fourth, a small Texas news­pa­per, the Lib­erty County Vindi­ca­tor, posted the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, in­clud­ing its ref­er­ence to “mer­ci­less In­dian sav­ages.” Face­book uses al­go­rithms to au­to­mat­i­cally shut down any post­ing with words that could be hurt­ful. So Face­book la­beled the Dec­la­ra­tion hate speech and took it down.

Face­book sin­gles out some post­ings as mis­lead­ing. Brent Bozell of the Me­dia Re­search Cen­ter ex­plains that it’s “about go­ing af­ter con­ser­va­tive talk on the in­ter­net and ban­ning it by some­how pro­ject­ing it as be­ing false.” Sim­i­larly, Twit­ter tags tweets from the con­ser­va­tive news ag­gre­ga­tor Drudge Re­port as “sen­si­tive con­tent,” com­plains House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee chair­man Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).

Twit­ter chief ex­ec­u­tive Jack Dorsey is com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing “healthy con­ver­sa­tion.” That’s like col­leges call­ing for safe spa­ces. It’s harm­ful to democ­racy, be­cause dis­cord and po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy are what make democ­racy thrive. That’s why the founders wrote the First Amend­ment, to pro­tect un­re­strained de­bate in the pub­lic square.

So­cial me­dia plat­forms should be the 21st cen­tury ver­sion of the pub­lic square, where the free ex­change of in­for­ma­tion and po­lit­i­cal opin­ions is guar­an­teed, not cen­sored.

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