In defense of ‘Fake News’

In the past week, Facebook outlined a plan to “take misinformation seriously”, and while no one doubts the intentions of the social media site, the side effects of implementing such a policy could severely damage the intellectual diversity online as well as atrophy our abilities to ascertain truth and detect deceit. Social media shouldn’t be slowed by a vetting process; it was designed to be instant.

Zuckerberg, has acknowledged these concerns. He’s expressed that he does not wish to be “arbiters of truth”. Yet it is the action specifically limiting certain pieces of media while allowing others that is inherently damaging, no matter how radical or outright false the media is. We should not take such a short term historical perspective. Today’s radicals are tomorrow’s liberators. If a Facebook post circulated in 2012 (prior to the Snowden Leaks) floated the idea that the NSA was collecting our data on a mass scale, it would be deemed a wild conspiracy. This is not to say we shouldn’t be critical of news.

On the contrary, we should ourselves be extremely critical. We should not outsource our ability to determine truth with the assumption that those conducting the second-hand editorializing have our best interest in mind. Critical thinking needs exercise; without constant use our ability to discern what is untrue will leave us.

The internet allowed radical ideas to spread rapidly around the world, it’s already caused dictators to fall and governments to reform. Social media was crucial to the Arab Spring. Free speech is in natural opposition to governments.

The state has taken a side already; President Obama commented on the issue, stating that fake news is a threat to democracy.  It’s almost too easy to draw a comparison to The Ministry of Truth. Short of the Orwellian trope, simply assessing our own news critically is something that is, historically, hard fought for in America and shouldn’t be conceded so easily. If we truly value intellectual diversity, we should use this opportunity to grow our ability to analyze as well as preserve liberty. Facebook limiting news media isn’t the end of free speech, but it’s certainly an indicator of things to come and should be opposed now before it becomes more difficult in the future.