Should laws be introduced to fight against the spread of fake news? When arguing for new regulations, suggests EACD member Klaus Nørskov, you should first imagine the legal tools you want to implement in the hands of your worst enemy: do you still want them to be implemented? We may well be suffering under the yoke of post factualism, but worse may yet be to come if we give in to the urge to regulate. What we need is not more legislation but a more saavy media consumer.
History has taught us that democracy is its own worst enemy, because embedded into democracy lies the seeds of its own destruction. Joseph Goebebels proved this with terrifying efficiency. The two most important tools that he utilised were 1) lying to and through the media and 2) control of the media. Lying (for instance about Jewish attempts to gain world dominance) and running your own lying media (such as Der Stürmer) were basic tools to gain power; owning the media, meanwhile, was a basic precondition for staying in power. This is precisely why we should always fight for the freedom of media and be highly skeptical towards state-owned or state-financed media, since they are only a force for good for as long as government is a force for good. Having states regulate what is acceptable or not acceptable content in any type of media – including social media – remains the thinking of Goebbels, no matter the initial intentions.
Secondly, a legal framework to counter fake news would be futile in so much as the network of sources will be hard to penetrate and new Jestin Colers will appear as soon as old ones perish. Going after the social media carriers is equally pointless; at any rate, it would be like punishing Vodafone if somebody lied to me on the phone. The technology remains, presenting – enhancing in fact – the means to spread lies. China found ways to minimise the impact of some brands of fake news – by blocking all undesirable channels. Of course this is primarily in order to make the population more vulnerable to the fake news proposed by the people in power.
Fake news is nothing new. What is new is the utter lack of filtering. Any journalist will tell you how they are being sidetracked or manipulated by sources and stakeholders – at best (but far from always) they counter this by cross referencing, through multiple sourcing and by the simple means of common sense.
Social media – just like your network-provider – is merely a carrier, and carriers come and go according to popular demand. The obligation lies at the consumer end. We are in desperate need for an upgrade: the Consumer 2.0 has been too long in the making. Esentially, we need to establish our own filtering processes to sort out 'fake' from 'real'. But within this fact the truly sinister threats are to be found, since while the more affluent among us will do so with ease, the less fortunate will not and will thus be far more vulnerable to manipulation. This development is producing a ‘great divide’ between the minority ‘haves’ and the majority ‘have nots’. Therefore, if we want enlightenment to prevail, ‘how to consume news’ should be part of anyone’s education. No child should pass through elementary school without learning the fine art of filtering news streams and being able to smell a fart at a mile’s distance, preferably more.
This is not to say that we should just accept being lied to. And, in fact, lying is already illegal in many circumstances: you are not allowed to tell lies about your fellow man. Slander and defamation are subject to prosecution in most judicial frameworks. Legality is in place; what we need in this day and age is more insight and education, not stricter rules (since rules will only provide us with a fales sense of security, making us easy prey). Equally important, rules in themselves represents a tool of oppression, thereby for all practical purposes hitting us in much the same way. Don’t be paranoid! Be skeptical. Cross reference or, when in doubt, don’t share. And help educate your fellow man question by question. Only insight will be able to protect western democracies as they wait for the coup de grace at the hand of totalitarianism, religious zealots and lying b****rds.
In this blog post, the author solely expresses his private opinion.
About the author
Klaus Nørskov is Director of Communication and Public Affairs at Danish Red Cross, having also worked as head of departments at the Danish Ministry of the Environment and Director of Communication at the Danish Agricultural Council. Klaus joined the EACD in 2007 Follow him on Twitter at @KlausNorskov
About this blog
Throughout the year, EACD will publish a series of online content around our 2017 themes: Authenticity, Personalisation of Communications, Digitalisation, Europe, and Trust. To share your insights on these topics, contact firstname.lastname@example.org