Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
The Problem of Free Speech in an Age of Disinformation (nytimes.com)
208 points by pseudolus 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 395 comments





Society is misdiagnosing the issue here.

It's not unchecked free speech. Instead, it's unchecked curation by media and social media companies with the goal of engagement.

As long as media companies get the most benefit from people engaging with content, they will continue to promote information that is damaging to society. It may even be true information but when the goal is engagement, it's purpose will be to enrage and divide because that's what's engaging.

Limiting speech will not cause this issue to go away. It's bigger than just misinformation. The core issue is the underlying system that values engagement over all things. That is, the advertising system.

Companies that make their money selling ads while providing content to engage have a perverse incentive to make society worse. This is the bad seed that needs removal.

This business model should be illegal. It's already trivially unethical.


>It's not unchecked free speech. Instead, it's unchecked curation by media and social media companies with the goal of engagement.

Unchecked free speech has always been an issue, which is why even in America, where free speech occupies one of the highest rankings of competing social virtues by dint of history, there are still a litany of narrow carve outs.

Do you lie to your business parters in the context of a transaction? We hit you with fraud, misrepresentation, or any number of torts. Do you threaten someone with bodily harm? Oh boy. Cyberbullying? Depending on your state, that might be a problem. Lying while under oath or to a federal agent? That's potentially a few years behind bars.

So yes, unrestricted 'say anything lmao' free speech does not exist. It has never existed. It will never exist.

Everyone who does us the disservice of trotting it out as if it does exist is creating a strawman which distracts us from a more honest conversation.

Which isn't 'should there be a line at all?' It's 'where should that line be drawn?'


Speech in freedom of speech refers to the communication of ideas and opinions, not all communication. The term "freedom of expression" is commonly used to clarify this. Lying to your partner is not a crime. Taking their money under those circumstances is the crime.

But again, this is just the status quo. Why is lying to someone to take their money a crime, but lying to someone to influence an election not? What makes money worth special protections, but voting not?

The real reason is because you cannot cleanly define promises when combined with other definitions nor would you neccessarily want to - surprisingly.

Say a politician promises to cut taxes or boost social spending and then a natural disaster strikes or an adversary attacks. Either war or repairs and relief consume time and money. Holding them to it would force suboptimal decisions.

Money however is fundamentally fungible and performs best when it flows. Fraud being legal would force far more caution and selectivity which would do vast systemic harm. Why invest if there is no guarantee that it isn't just a gift that may be paid back?


It is because politicians lie. Filtering one side but no the other by the media and social media is censoring.

They are interfering with election.


Maybe politicians shouldn't be allowed to lie?

Then the people who decide what the politicians are allowed to say would themselves be politicians.

This is a perceptive comment, and is the reason we need free speech. If we only allow "good" speech, who decides what "good" is?

A dictatorship of politifact? No, tech firms are experimenting with that already. It results in things like tables of public data being classed as "disinformation".

The whole idea of fact checking is naive. Nobody is trustworthy enough to determine truth. Everyone who tries turns it into "truth is whatever powerful people say it is" (which is itself circular logic of course, but the people deciding on the meaning of truth are rarely all that bright).


I guess this is why it's called capitalism.

Jokes aside, I think that democracies which are split up into executives, legislatives and judicatives are not well designed from an architectural standpoint.

What's missing is a society of technologically specialized gremiums that evaluate knowledge and truthfulness, and are able to either control the press or to control the legislative process.

So many laws have been created out of misinformation, stupidity, and resulting fear... So that generations to come are harmed by this shit. It's absurd.

In Germany, we technically have the "Rat der Wissenschaften" but it basically has no purpose. It's just there for nothing, and has no power over any other instance.

The irony is that in Germany the only instance that was able to do anything against the misinformation cases was actually the Bundeskartellamt, which serves the purpose of finding out wrong flows of money and does financial audits in illegal syndicates.


Was this written by an AI

Nope, by a German speaker in good but imperfect English

the difference "lies" between lying to befriend and date a girl and sleep with her versus lying so to incarcerate and rape the same girl, the later is a crime when she has no full consent in the act

Lying to defraud someone is illegal because they don't have full consent, but lying to make someone misvote is not because...they do have full consent. I don't follow.

If you lie to me and I end up signing a contract that benefits you vs. if you lie to me and I end up signing a ballot that benefits you. Where's the difference?

I'm not going to touch this analogy, it's in bad taste and doesn't elucidate anything.


The stealing is what makes it a crime, not the personal benefit. If you rob someone solely to the benefit of your favorite charity, you still robbed someone.

I would assume explicit actions like mislabeling ballots or actually changing someone's vote on them is a crime. Perhaps even tricking people about polling place locations or the party of candidates. But it's obviously very dangerous ground once you venture multiple degrees of freedom off into policing conspiracy theories or political ads, given the risks of abuse. It should be just as hard as to convict people for murder via such distant effects. Especially since in voting, people have access to alternative views, including yours.


But it's still fraud even if you don't steal anything. Lying on a job application is fraud, even if you ultimately do the job perfectly well.

So why is lying on a job application for the purpose of getting a job illegal, unless that job is an elected position? (note that lying on behalf of someone else to help them get a job is also fraud, so the same question could be asked of someone lying on behalf of or in support of a candidate)


This is typical of capitalist thought: property is sacrosanct, voting is worth nothing.

the definition of fraud follows the laws, not logic. laws aren't uniform and crime equipotent, because they model a trade-off between societal, communal and individual damage, plus a great deal of unfairness from certain topic being propped up by politicians or special interests groups

In this thread we're discussing why the law is the way it is (with the subtext that, perhaps, we should modify it). Saying that "the law is this way because that's the way the law is" is circular. Which is what I was getting at when I said "But again, this is just the status quo" a few posts upthread.

To make the question more explicit: why should the non-legal, but supposedly fundamental, right to "freedom of expression" protect your ability to lie to me about a political candidate, but not a contract?


>Rape by deception is a situation in which the perpetrator obtains the victim's agreement to engage in sexual intercourse or other sex acts, but gains it by deception such as false statements or actions.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rape_by_deception


As the wikipedia article illustrate, the scope is very narrow and depend on the country. A broad interpretation would have a significant impact.

A trivial example would be a divorce where one partner has been caught with a false statement or action. Any sexual intercourse at a date between the lie and the other person finding out would potentially be rape since consent might have changed if the person has been truthful. If both sides are cheating on each other then we would be in the weird state were both were raping each other at the same time, as both would be using deception in order to obtain the victims agreement before the act.

The wast majority of cases described in the Wikipedia article is when one party is asleep, which to me is not about deception at all but rather the state of the victim and their ability to consent. Further down the article, the California case is interesting but involve other crimes in connection to the act which muddles the definition. Last we have the Israel one with the religious aspect, and I strongly doubt a similar case would be allowed in places where such religious aspects would hold less weight. Being consistent under the Israel case, a gold digger would similar be raping it victim since they too would have lied about their interest in a long-term relationship.


>Lying to your partner is not a crime.

If you're intending to obtain some benefit or deprive them of something, but fail to clinch it and 'take their money' as you put it, the statement still triggers liability under most theories of fraud/misrepresentation. Generally some injury needs to be suffered, though.

So no, it's not the stealing. It's the speech with bad intention.

As a sidenote, fraud and misrepresentation generally have some of the most interesting rules regarding evidence. The law really drilled down into what's a sufficient record and what's not in respect of attribution of liability in this area.


I think you admit it’s the injury, not the lie.

No. I'm just not trying to write out half of a legal text. In the standard tort ones it's a requirement largely because of the historical requirements behind the remedies associated with the acts.

Where the offenses aren't linked to theories of compensation or restitution, but instead are based on punishment, they're less likely to require injury and more likely to look at it as a factor in determining the magnitude of the punishment.

The rules regarding fraud in connection with TARP funds, lies to federal agents, etc. all run on this line.

Tell a federal agent you aren't guilty of something when you are? That's a charge. There's no harm to the agent. No injury. Just the lie.


> unrestricted 'say anything lmao' free speech does not exist

I am baffled by everyone here talking about algorithmic platforms like Facebook and Twitter as if they are a bastion of free speech. They are designed to promote only the most engaging content (IE most outrageous and in some cases literal misinformation meant to feed on your biases).

These services are not a free marketplace of ideas, they are companies which are designed to make money. The more eyeballs on screens, the more money they make, and it is not well reasoned discussion with a diverse representation of viewpoints that keeps people glued to their devices.

Consider how you respond to someone making an incorrect statement on Twitter. You reply to them, and by replying to them you amplify the audience of the incorrect tweet. The fact that your correction causes misinformation to spread isn't a bug, it is exactly how the platform was intended to work, because it causes "engagement."

"The solution is more free speech" doesn't work here because the platforms don't have free speech and never did to begin with. All people are asking is for those platforms which currently promote outrage above organic content to sort themselves out. Not any of these strawmen about creating a "bureau of truth" or "state censorship boards" and certainly not notions of making an American KGB which I think I saw mentioned somewhere.

I have no idea of the best way to do this. Treat the negative effects of algorithmic platforms as some sort of externality? Develop strict regulation on what types of methods to keep people hooked on social media are considered ethical? Similar to how drugs or gambling are already regulated? Just straight up ban this type of business model?

It's going to be one of the big questions of the next decade. Even something like a user generated flag where if enough people press it, a tweet has a big warning over it saying "this is a contested matter" or something would be better than the current situation.


>it is not well reasoned discussion with a diverse representation of viewpoints that keeps people glued to their devices

This sounds like Hacker News. Every platform has (or: develops) it's target audience and we also can't blame the companies behind, that they are "for profit". Ads are lucrative and relatively fair (even beneficial - e.g. small businesses can make aware of their offerings... others have pointed this out before). Over time things consolidate by themselves: "We" hang out on hacker news and other likely more proper offerings. It's sad to see people "logging into facebook" and dragging down the discussion or just being offensive because of stupidity. But you can't fix that. The discussion itself and about it (discussions about discussions - meta discussions) is important to make sure "things get exposed". Things consolidate with time, e.g. you might look back on your last 10 years, and there are countless communities, where I left a last angry comment and then left. I am sure those communities are just small and irrelevant echo chambers, shrinking, because even their loudest advocates get tired and realize over time, that something is wrong, subconsciously. While others stay, though I have the feeling that there are a lot of big and relevant communities, that I still follow, and which are growing, which gives me hope, that we are heading in the right direction.


Literally no one is making the argument that it’s actual unchecked free speech.

The person you replied to was making the case that the problem is the system, which it is.

Anyone over the age of 13 understands that “say anything lmao” doesn’t exist.


  > Do you lie to your business parters in the context of a transaction? We hit you with fraud, misrepresentation, or any number of torts. Do you threaten someone with bodily harm? Oh boy. Cyberbullying? Depending on your state, that might be a problem. Lying while under oath or to a federal agent? That's potentially a few years behind bars.

...and yet, ALL of those things happen routinely and without consequence on a COLOSSAL SCALE.

Folks on HN like to pretend that laws and courts function like clockwork or computer programs, executing flawlessly and automatically. They don't. People get away with stuff ALL THE TIME. And if it does ever end up in a court, "winning" is an iffy proposition even in the best possible circumstances.

In the case of political disinformation, the problem is even more intractable. Talking heads can lie their heads off to audiences of millions of people on incredibly powerful platforms. I don't just mean "lie", I mean deliberately say a demonstrable untruth with the intention of misleading others on serious matters and be completely unaccountable for it.

There's the recent example of Trump retweeting a completely fabricated story suggesting that Biden had members of Seal Team 6 who were involved in the OBL assassination "executed". Turns out the story was "launched" from Miami Florida at the "American Priority Conference" the week before. In a few short days, a disinformation campaign was able to fabricate a completely fake story, gain 3M youtube views, and "induce" the President to retweet it to 85 Million followers. The source story was then quickly pulled from Youtube, but everyone involved (Gary Franchi, Anna Khait, Nick Noe, and others) is totally free to do it all over again. They still got their twitter, facebook and youtube platforms, RIGHT NOW, during a super tense time right before the election.

These platforms are very much "owned" platforms. They're not like newspapers but they have the same responsibility to act with some level good human judgement. Laws aren't ever going to be able to keep up with this crap.


I think one significant difference in these cases is access to alternative channels of information. Fir example when buying a property you are very highly reliant on the information you get from the vendor in making your judgement, you can hire a surveyor etc, but the owner occupier is in a uniquely privileged position. The same often goes for a party too a business transaction, especially with respect to their future intentions. In political discourse there are generally plenty of alternative sources of information and opinion though.

Also contracts and personal relationships are between two specific parties with defined responsibilities, but voting is not as direct and specific as that.


No - it's "there should be no line at all". Even a minor concession is the beginning of a total defeat.

In all of those instances you listed there are circumstances above and beyond the contextual meaning of free-speech in the above posters reply.


Your first sentence is obviously ridiculous given the examples the poster gave. I don’t know what the second sentence even means.

The issue with restricting speech is selective enforcement, often based on political ideology.

It's not unchecked free speech. Instead, it's unchecked curation by media and social media companies with the goal of engagement.

Try teaching non-elite undergrads sometime, and particularly assignments that require some sense of epistemology, and you'll discover that the vast majority of people have pretty poor personal epistemic hygiene—it's not much required in most people, most of the time, in most jobs.

We evolved to form tribes, not to be "right." Jonathan's Haidt's The Righteous Mind deals with this topic well. https://jakeseliger.com/2012/03/25/jonathan-haidts-the-right...


> Try teaching non-elite undergrads sometime, and particularly assignments that require some sense of epistemology, and you'll discover that the vast majority of people have pretty poor personal epistemic hygiene—it's not much required in most people, most of the time, in most jobs.

I'm not sure what you mean by "non-elite undergrads" here.

Is it "undergrads from non-elite universities", or "undergrads from non-elite backgrounds", "B-student undergrads", or perhaps something else?


Are undergrads from elite universities any different from your experience?

It's likely worse. Their ability to rationalize may be higher.

This, I keep saying this. It's not a question of truth, it was never really a question of truth. It's about who is saying what.

In my experience this is 100% the case. If someone doesn't like you, no matter what you do or the rationality of what you say will not change their opinion of you unless it saves them from undue harm.

I think some concrete examples would be nice.

I'm onboard with Haidt's description of the problem.

I was much less impressed with his prescription for mitigating it. Apparently if we all just clap louder, Tinkerbell will fly.


Netflix doesn't sell ads (and doesn't rely on user-generated content, so they can't really threaten democracy), but if you read interviews with executives, they also seem to be optimizing for maximum time spent on the service.

Apple, too, reportedly told developers it's increasingly looking for Apple Arcade games that will "keep users hooked" over a long period. [1]

Consequently, I'm not convinced removing ad-supported media will fix the problem of companies optimizing for engagement at all costs. Humans are stupid, and so we're more willing to pay for services where we spend lots of time, irrespective of the quality of that time.

---

1: https://www.macrumors.com/2020/06/30/apple-arcade-game-strat...


The difference is that TV shows and video games are clearly entertainment, so you know what to expect. It’s possible for a fictional TV show or video game to manipulate you, but it’s harder because you know what you’re experiencing isn’t real.

Social media is more dangerous because it can warp your perception of reality: what is happening in the world, what people think and care about in your neighborhood and your country; what is a scientific fact and what is up for debate; which politician is trustworthy and which isn’t. There is no boundary to what aspect of your life Facebook or Google can manipulate. With an ad business model, they are incentivized to expand the scope of manipulation further and further, since their ability to influence you is literally what they sell.


I agree. The question is, if Facebook relied on paid subscriptions instead of ads, would they have designed their algorithm differently?

I think they'd still optimize for engagement / time spent on site.


Maybe. I suspect they'd optimize for renewals and new subscriptions so the goal wouldn't be how to get ad clicks and ad views.

That’s why I originally brought up Netflix, even though their domain is very different than Facebook. Netflix seems to have decided that the best way to optimize for renewals is to get subscribers to spend more time on the service overall. Which isn’t unlike Facebook et al doing the same for ad views.

Sure but they would not be infested with conspiracy theories and fake accounts because those would be worthless.

So instead of our parents being lobotomized by QAnon, they would still be inviting us to their Zynga farm game so they can unlock the pumpkin patch extension. Still scammy but less destructive to democratic institutions and free will as we know it.

The ad business model is not just about selling engagement, it’s about creating an ecosystem enabling the worst players to make the most money, while the platforms at the center keep their hands clean. Google started this tradition with malware search bars and shady affiliates; Facebook and Youtube just took it to the next level. None of that shit is profitable with subscriptions.


> Sure but they would not be infested with conspiracy theories and fake accounts because those would be worthless.

Why? How are those conspiracy theories connected to advertising?

They're not worthless insofar as they cause users to spend more time on Facebook. And Facebook would want to optimize for time spent on their site regardless of whether it was to keep users paying or to show them more ads.


Conspiracy theories emerge from the complicated and low-quality ecosystem that is required to monetize free content with ads. If people pay you a subscription, you don’t need to incentivize scammers to produce content that enrages people so they can see a viagra ad. Instead you can do what Apple and Netflix do: pay content creators for quality content, and compete on quality.

Is there a market for $5/month all-you-can-eat documentaries about lizards who secretly run the world and lay their eggs in vaccines? Sure, but it won’t be a $300B company capable of destabilizing entire countries.


The quote "If you do not pay, you are the product" implied that if you pay, you are not the product. That is, a profile won't be built around you to be tracked and manipulated.

Today it's more like "You are the product, whether you pay or not".


> The quote "If you do not pay, you are the product" implied that if you pay, you are not the product

Such a contraposition isn't necessarily true. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contraposition


Well if you want to get pedantic then "if you pay, you are not the product" is the inverse, not the contraposition. The contraposition is "if you are not the product, then you pay".

(Finally, the philosophy classes I took at university can be used for something)


The settling of the US involved the creation of many, many small town newspapers. These weren't created at random but created by the most influential families of the towns, to sell the town itself and the maintain the influence of the family. Radio and TV were free like website from the start, of course (with paid cable coming much later). High end magazines survived the rise of TV and radio because their audience was higher quality.

So the audience has been the product for a long, long time and paying or not paying made little difference.


I think the underlying challenge here might be that the most "successful" businesses often make us the most addicted. I'm curious how many of the very large companies, if any, don't rely on a business model of (borderline) addiction to their products.

A coup is a threat to democracy, election rigging, or coercing others to vote or barring them from doing so.

Ads and propaganda aren't - it is absurd that this hyperbole is so blindly accepted.


> Companies that make their money selling ads

Which includes...the New York Times. And all other media companies.

> This business model should be illegal. It's already trivially unethical.

By this criterion, pretty much all newspapers that have ever existed should be illegal. Also pretty much all TV channels. If this is a problem, it's been a problem since long before Facebook and Twitter.


Absolutely.

Media - especially news media - wherein the product is advertising has always had a perverse incentive structure to stir up society to get more eyeballs. Key in this is the insight that what keeps humans engaged most is angry righteousness and tribalism.

The difference is that media never had the tools that are now available to track, optimize for engagement, and also amplify that engagement with immediate social sharing.

With this toolbox, we've created something that can cause society to destroy itself - the stakes are really that high. It's not the intention of the media companies but it is the result.

Nothing in this world scares me more than particularly our tools created by first social media companies in their compacity to destroy civilization.


Nationalize Facebook.

It's a problem. Been one since the Spanish-American war.

Some of the biggest source of advertising revenues for news media organizations comes from defense companies. The New York Times pushed for the Iraq war, for example. They fired journalists who reported dovish news, too. Many others left to report as freelancers so they could paint more accurate pictures in smaller publications.

Similarly, MSNBC will bring on ex-Pentagon officials to "analyze" current events, but they don't bring in ex-State Department officials. There are likely patterns and incentives here. "Follow the money" as they like to say.


I don't see a lot of military or defense contractor ads in the NYT.

It could very well be a ‘here’s a check if you keep our names off your tongue’ situation. I have no idea though. I don’t read the Times/I use an addblock

Newspapers and TV channels are curated and the means to being a publisher or advertiser on those platforms is extremely limited compared to what the internet allows. When everyone on the planet is an unchecked publisher and/or advertiser, the problem is clearly much worse.

I'd honestly have a hard time making a case that Fox News is less net bad for society than Facebook as of today. But Fox News feels like the "end-stage" version of whatever you'd call that particular flavor of classic corruption and human-brain-hijacking, whereas Facebook has been visibly improving its algorithmic behavior control abilities, has already invented new flavors of human-brain-hijacking, and seems to be getting better and better at making us worse every day.

We've learned how to handle the old style of human-brain-hijacking. Those lessons were written in blood and war. Facebook has few parallels, only distant rumblings of far worse lessons to be learned.


> I'd honestly have a hard time making a case that Fox News is less net bad for society than Facebook as of today.

If you were to put "any media outlet" in place of "Fox News", I would agree with you.

Part of the problem is that so many people think it's only the media outlets that say things they disagree with that are the problem. It isn't. It's all of them, no matter what side they're on or what point of view they're advancing. They will all lie and manipulate when it suits them.


I think the problem is the addition of "opinionated" content media outlets publish to generate outrage. E.g. IMO the NYT is the gold standard of journalism but a lot of their opinion pieces are not even fit to print.

> It's all of them, no matter what side they're on or what point of view they're advancing.

The premise to your statement is rather telling... why should a media outlet take a side or advance a point of view? It's just not necessary or (IMO) acceptable for the main sources of information to do so. Here in New Zealand we're blessed to still have trustworthy minimally biased media. Australian media sadly seems heavily Americanised.


All media is biased. It might not be as blatant as Fox but it's still there, in the tone the reporter takes, in the types of questions they ask, in the attitude of their responses to answers, in which parts they emphasize, etc...

I agree. I kind of regret putting the "minimally biased" in my reply. I think that media can be trustworthy despite a small amount of bias, as long as the audience does a little critical thinking. At high levels of bias, they start trying to mislead you.

Edit: because good journalism involves taking steps to avoid bias.


> I think the problem is the addition of "opinionated" content media outlets publish to generate outrage. E.g. IMO the NYT is the gold standard of journalism but a lot of their opinion pieces are not even fit to print

A lot of their journalism isn’t that great anymore either. (In the last 3-5 years, there has been a massive upheaval in the ranks as revenues have declined and experienced journalists have left.)

E.g. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/09/opinion/nyt-1619-project-...


> They will all lie and manipulate when it suits them.

Absolutely. At the same time I think it makes sense to single out Fox News at this current moment. For several years now they have they been a straight-up propaganda mouthpiece. They’re noticeably worse.

I’d call myself a Progressive, but FWIW as a habit I don’t watch any television news regularly - I read.

Point being I think it’s reasonable to say that you can’t say with a straight face that Fox News is - at this particular moment - equivalent to other networks.


Fox News isn’t designed to be even handed. “Fair and Balanced” is an inside joke. It’s designed to bring balance to a media industry that skews heavily left by offering the countervailing view on issues. (I do agree it’s gone downhill since Ailes left. Megyn Kelly has said as much.)

To put it differently: you cannot understand what’s going on in the world just reading the NYT and watching CNN, especially in the Trump era. Those outlets may oftentimes be closer to the truth in their conclusions, but they’ll completely strip context and nuance from issues in favor of preferred narrative. CNN will happily air a video with buildings burning in the background and “mostly peaceful protests” in the chyron: https://www.foxnews.com/media/cnn-panned-for-on-air-graphic-... https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/only-some-kinds-of-pro....

One thing that’s remarkable is that in the last 6 months, I’ve had Democrats confide to me that they’re harboring skepticism of the media because they noticed how much the media downplayed the violence of what was happening in their cities.


The whole media is skewing left is completely fabricated. If anything most media has traditionally been moderate conservative. It is simply that part of the republican part has moved so far to the right that Reagan would likely be kicked out today.

And this to a large degree has been driven by Fox News. It is also important to point out that they are different to most other news media in that they categorize most of their shows as entertainment not news, the reason that they can not be held accountable for knowingly telling outright lies.


We’re not talking about 1971. CNN started in 1980. Fox News didn’t become popular until the early 2000s. My theory is that it arose in response to a distinct leftward swing in the media, where they were obviously rooting for Gore: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2014/05/06/ju.... In 2002, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 2:1 among journalists. By 2013 it was 4:1. Today, self-identified liberals outnumber self-identified conservatives 13:1 https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/media-bias-lef.... Journalists overwhelmingly donated to Clinton: https://publicintegrity.org/politics/journalists-shower-hill...

You can see the distinct leftward swing in coverage of the 2019 primary. The media was completely blindsided by the victory of Biden, and the implosion of progressive superstars like Warren and Harris.


Harris was a progressive superstar?

And Fox News is propaganda ... it's not a good thing for any news organization to be like that - regardless of the media environment as a whole.


The argument that the media is left leaning seems to be based largely on the notion of "if you don't agree with everything I say and ask difficult questions you must have a left bias". Have a look at this Shapiro interview https://m.youtube.com/watch?index=616&list=LLj44HgVlqL7Qgzft.... For some context Andrew Neil the journalist being accused by Shapiro of a left wing bias, is an ultra conservative. Anyone with some knowledge of the UK media would fall over laughing hearing this accusation.

I’m not convinced that the majority of “the media” skews to the left (although some subsets, like say, the NYT opinion page probably do). CNN however is definitely left leaning, at least in the era of Trump. I don’t remember them always being this left leaning, I feel like they saw the success of Fox News and decided they needed a foil on the left.

> To put it differently: you cannot understand what’s going on in the world just reading the NYT and watching CNN

Absolutely. At the same time, regardless of what other news you consume, all Fox News is good for is taking the temperature of the American paranoid right and/or your low-information voters with authoritarian sympathies. Or folks who just like the news babes.

Or of those who have a difficult time acknowleding uncomfortable truths. Or do not wish to say certain things out loud.

And before you admonish me - the issue is not a lack of broadmindness on my part, or a lack of desire to debate/discuss. The issue is that Fox News is propaganda pushing morally and ethically outrageous policies. They're not the only one but they're by far - by far - the worst (at this time).

Propaganda is not balance. Fox News these days is propaganda. No news organization should be such. That is the truth, as unpleasant or difficult as it may be for some people to connect the dots to get to the point where they understand that.

Second. I'm pretty sure if you talk to people on the Left - the real Left, not the "center-neoliberal-not-far-right" which sorta is the placeholder for the Left in the United States (although I'm glad to see Progressives beginning to win elections), they'll disagree with you about the media bias of large media organizations.

I think that's part of what prompted the creation of The Intercept. I don't always agree w/them but they're clearly more of a Left publication.

Consider these issues:

- The Gulf War - The invasion of Iraq (Gulf War 2) - Until recently, police violence - Until recently, climate change - Capitalism

And probably more. Plenty of the media outlets you named (and I think NY Times does great investigative reporting) often have not been alignment with the left on these issues, at least initially.

I am always down for discussion but not for obfuscation of facts, denial of the truth, or equivocation on the fundamentals of equality, respect for fellow people, and human rights. If we have to politely agree to disagree, so be it. But please consider what I say.

Oh. And it's important to distinguish between the tens of thousands of people protesting racist police violence since the murder of George Floyd, and the people who have been looting, whether out of rage, poverty, or simply opportunity.

There were lots more peaceful protestors.

In fact, that you kinda tried to imply that falsehood when talking about CNN (who probably did do something dumb) is exactly the kind of fact-distorting intellectually dishonest behavior that is so problematic. It's not specific to Fox, but it is endemic at Fox.

Lastly the recent rise in violence in some cities is worth talking about some other day, in some other conversation.


> Part of the problem is that so many people think it's only the media outlets that say things they disagree with that are the problem. It isn't. It's all of them, no matter what side they're on or what point of view they're advancing.

You can further reduce this to "all humans will lie and manipulate when it suits them". As a statement it's just as true, but it obfuscates the concept of scale : some people lie more, more deliberately and more frequently than others.

By declaring everyone an offender without further distinction, you are effectively excusing the behavior of the worst actors while minimizing the good faith efforts put forward by others.


Yeah, there’s a terrible conflict of interest between informing the public and selling advertising. There has been for a long time. It’s just worse now. We should figure out how to fix it rather than throw up our hands.

The problem is that moderation doesn't scale. Newspapers, TV, radio, film all evolved to have or to conform to some kind of standards and practices department, which played well with advertiser needs. The issue with contemporary media companies is that it's not practical to do that at Internet scale -- see all of the routine stories about moderation teams at Facebook, for instance.

You nailed this.

What all of these pearl-clutching arguments amount to is former gatekeepers kvetching about there no longer being a gate for them to keep.

The information dissemination landscape is evolving, and we are only being held back by those too cowardly to let go of their control and let us grow and ascend.


Not to speak for GP, but I think what he's getting at is that the application of AI in this business model in order to drive engagement (for the purpose of selling ads) should be illegal. Or more generally, we need regulation around AI.

This is the Alignment Problem Lite. Instead of an AGI sending the harvester drones to turn us all into paperclips, we have ML harvesting our sanity for clicks and views.

>> Companies that make their money selling ads

> Which includes...the New York Times. And all other media companies.

Netflix?

It doesn't have to be so. But you have to pay for the product.


You want this to be illegal? Get to work on it.

The subtle underlying problem is all the people out there curating cogent arguments about the problem on social media, meaning countless hours spent avoiding the legwork.

Hi HN. Hi Reddit. Hi Facebook. Hi tech workers who have to constantly re-invent the wheel.

I’m sick of “both sides” and every one in between projecting and deflecting.

You all want to look at the problem in society, look in the mirror, cause you’re a part of it too. Say and do other things rather than demand other people do and say other things.

American people and politicians are on the same page: nothing is my fault, and it’s only my problem if I get paid for fixing it.


> The core issue is the underlying system that values engagement over all things ... the advertising system.

I don't think you're digging deep enough here. It's not the business model. It's the technology.

We've invented technology that can, to a significant degree, control people. It is as addictive as hard drugs and people will just keep coming back to their dealer for more and more digital crack.

But it's worse than simply heroin or crack cocaine. It gives the dealers not just the power to keep people coming back for more, but also gives them far, far more control over not just what those people do, but what those people think.

The large companies (Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc) aren't in the business of search or social media. Nor are they in the business of advertisement. Their business model is selling complete control over people at the population level. At some point it will stop being a business model and start being a self sustaining model of raw power that strips us of our humanity.

We need to take a hard stance to all attempts at psychological manipulation via technology. A/B testing to see how changes affect behaviour should be seen as morally repugnant as selling crack cocaine to children.


> I don't think you're digging deep enough here. It's not the business model. It's the technology.

I don't think you're digging deep enough here. It's not the technology. It's the people. Meaning not just the people running companies, but all of us.

Technology is a tool. Any tool can be used for nefarious purposes, or for beneficial purposes. Which kind it gets used for depends on the people who use it, and on the people who are creating the environment in which the people using the tools operate.

I don't dispute that most of the people who are running large companies (not even limited to social media companies) are amoral and will do anything to make more money, including manipulating other people's thoughts and opinions. But such people can only thrive in an environment where there are lots of other people who are susceptible to their manipulation. There will always be nefarious people in the world. But there is no rule that says there have to be enough other people who are susceptible to them to enable them to thrive.

I don't disagree that people who make money through lies and manipulation should be punished. But I think we all need to take a step back and ask why such people are able to thrive in our society to this extent. At some point the rest of society needs to take some responsibility for not being susceptible to liars and crooks.


These are the same word games that got us tired arguments like "guns don't kill people, people kill people." Looking only at people as individuals limits you to seeing first-order effects. The insidious effects of social media come about because large scale algorithmic optimization has found high leverage points for influencing society. While that's ultimately a consequence of individual people, you can't solve many complicated problems using a lens that can't see higher-order effects.

People seem to be fundamentally incompatible with social media, much in the same way they're incompatible with bullet wounds and drug addictions. Blame-passing word games just get us farther from taking that truth and starting to fix the world.


> Looking only at people as individuals limits you to seeing first-order effects.

Where did I say "looking only at people as individuals"? My point was precisely the opposite: that people are not just individuals, that an individual person's failure to exercise common sense and critical thinking skills, making them susceptible to manipulation, when aggregated over a large enough segment of society, has higher order effects that go way beyond the consequences of the manipulation of that individual person, because it creates an environment where nefarious people can thrive, which is bad for everyone.

Social media technology certainly makes that problem worse by giving the nefarious people more leverage. But you can't fix the problem by banning or restricting the technology; the nefarious people will always have the means to control how those rules get written so that they can continue doing what they want to do, just with different labels pasted over it to satisfy the letter of the rules. Just as has happened with past attempts to do the same thing.

> People seem to be fundamentally incompatible with social media

You are assuming that there is no way for anyone to use the tool of social media without being an addict. That is as false and pernicious an assumption as the corresponding assumptions in the case of guns and drugs, which you are also making.

With that false assumption taken away, your argument boils down to: since some people are incapable of using tools like social media, guns, and drugs responsibly, we have to ban, or at least impose draconian restrictions on, those technologies for all people. That kind of thinking is incompatible with a free society. In a free society, you penalize the people who can't act like responsible adults, not the people who can.


> In a free society, you penalize the people who can't act like responsible adults, not the people who can.

If the ills of social media are, as you say, (and I also believe), caused by the higher-order effects of many individuals "failing to exercise common sense and critical thinking," then who are we to punish?

A phenomenon like QAnon might have been started by a single nefarious person, and amplified by a small group of misinformation lovers, but it's only because of social media's leverage that millions of people have had their moral framework and way of interacting with the world corrupted so heavily.

Punishing the irresponsible was a reasonable solution for all of history where the irresponsible had a reasonable amount of societal leverage. We're no longer there.

Perhaps banning social media isn't the way. But focusing on the humans that find leverage points in the system to amplify bad messages also doesn't solve the fact that the system is designed to maximize ordinary people's ability to create self-sustaining societal doom loops.

Banning guns might be overreach. But banning something that's the functional equivalent of distributing assault rifles to millions of toddlers seems like a necessity in a free society.


> who are we to punish?

I didn't say "punish", I said "penalize". Responsible adults should not have to have their society ruined because irresponsible people are manipulating and other irresponsible people are being manipulated.

> it's only because of social media's leverage

But what causes the leverage? It isn't just social media; if a billion people read on Facebook that they should drink nail polish to immunize themselves against COVID-19 (to concoct a fictional, as far as I know, example), and they do it, they suffer the consequences, not me.

What causes the leverage is that we have continued to hand more and more power to governments in the name of "fixing" problems that governments cannot fix. The result is that capturing that government power is worth so much that nefarious people are willing to spend billions to do it. Social media gives those people more leverage, yes, but if that big gob of centralized power wasn't there in the first place, it wouldn't matter.

Your proposed solution doesn't fix that problem; it makes it worse, by giving government even more power. And that just means responsible people get more penalized for the behavior of irresponsible people, because you're giving the government more power to ban tools that responsible people can make responsible use of.

> the system is designed to maximize ordinary people's ability to create self-sustaining societal doom loops

No, the system is designed to maximize the amount of power that nefarious people can capture, by centralizing that power. The solution is to de-centralize that power so it isn't there to capture. Stop depending on government fiat to fix problems.


What are your proposals? How do we make the masses of people less susceptible to this kind of manipulation? Without using the tools of government.

> How do we make the masses of people less susceptible to this kind of manipulation? Without using the tools of government.

I don't know how to solve the problem for everybody. I know how I solve it for myself: by using common sense and critical thinking, combined with a lot of background knowledge from a lot of different sources. But I don't know how to magically make everyone do that. And even people who do that won't always agree; many of the questions we would all like answers to do not have simple answers that everyone can agree on. People have different goals and values and they aren't always fully compatible, and we don't have a good understanding of many important problem domains.

What I do know is that the problem is unfixable with the tools of government. So we have no choice but to look for other, non-government ways of fixing it.


> Their business model is selling complete control over people at the population level. At some point it will stop being a business model and start being a self sustaining model of raw power that strips us of our humanity.

Calling it "complete control" is absurd hyperbole ans ignores that psychological manipulation isn't even remotely new. In fact the goddamned politicians implicitly called upon to ban this are psychological manipulators already. So were televangalists, every theocrat and strongman who suppressed dissent enough that his victims were stockholmed.

It cannot strip us of humanity - although it would be a good thing if it could because "humanity" in that context is a collection of bugs exploited for evil.


I agree with your diagnosis, but perhaps not your treatment plan. You seem to think that making the social networks’ business model illegal would not be a violation of free speech, but that the social networks limiting distribution of misinformation would be a violation of free speech. Am I interpreting you correctly?

No lucid assessment of “free speech” entertains a definition that includes “the use of machine learning to target messages to individuals in order to make money.” In the same way me sitting outside your house watching when you come and go to determine the best time to place a political flier on your door so you’ll see it when I want you to, surveillance capitalism it not free speech.

So you can't use machine learning.... can you use psychology to craft your message? Can you do surveys and gather demographic data to choose where to target?

You obviously think there is a line where you can no longer use tools to craft your message, but I am not sure where you would draw it.

I feel like any argument you make against machine learning is going to be able to also be used against something like the printing press. Couldn't people have said, "clearly, using a machine to make thousands of copies of your text is unfair and an abuse of free speech... you need to write your words by hand like the rest of us!"


> but I am not sure where you would draw it.

I am sure where to draw it: at using machine learning. How did I draw this line? I saw the disparate impact machine learning has vs traditional media, by sheer measurement of friction. Traditional media requires intentionality on the part of the target: picking up a newspaper, turning on a television and tuning to a station. ML on social media exploits key weaknesses in human psychology combined with unprecedented data collection to nudge individuals to read/believe/buy. This is wrong, it’s clearly wrong, and should be illegal.

The sort of slippery-slope arguments are necessary and important but should not paralyze us from taking action against it.


Like a lot of issues you'll likely need to choose a Schelling point (arbitrary cutoff). Some of it is simple inconveniences. It is a lot harder to learn enough psychology, understand your audience, and so on to influence them in comparison to having a program that scans every word they've put on their [social media account here] to decide how best to convince them. That would likely stop a good amount of actors.

If a quite small amount of people had access to and were using the printing press, then that might legitimately be an argument for the government in that country to ban it as it gives them more power over others. Though, once it becomes common and non-secret technology then everyone has been amplified the same way. Now, that 'give everyone the ability to use machine learning to tailor their text to the audience' could be a route your could attempt, but I don't think it makes as much sense for machine learning even if I could imagine a society that has that.


I take your meaning as, what we see on social media is not Free Speech, it is advertising subsidized Commercially Promoted Speech. That also means that preventing the promoted distribution is not limiting Free Speech (although as a private business they could do that with some liability as well).

Basically, the people complaining that their speech is being blocked were allowed to select the terms for debate based on their chosen meanings. Maybe the meaning of Free Speech as standing on a box in the town square needs to be taken back... but the Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech so it seems like that boat has sailed (for commercial and political reasons).


"... unchecked curation by media and social media companies with the goal of engagement."

Correct.

The Freedom Speeches™ food fight is just a useful distraction, to head off any structural reforms.

Similarly, all the pearl clutching over fact checking and truthiness and bias is completely misguided, serving to crowd out useful technical reforms.

Actual journalism (reporting) is very simple:

  - Share your data.
  - Cite your sources.
  - Sign your work.
Any medium claiming to be "news" must have built-in support.

I think this has a lot to do with the platforms vs. publishers issue, and the Section 230 dustup we're about to see.

IMO any platform whose owners have enough editorial control for these engagment-hacking techniques to be useful (the ability to decide what gets seen, what doesn't, and who sees what) should be treated as a publisher, not a platform.

This doesn't have to kill online communities generally. As long as we can distinguish between editorial control and freedom of association (i.e. the ability to ban rule-breakers and people we don't like) I don't see why effective moderation wouldn't be possible.


You think billionaire magnates and state actors who fund a lot of this divisive content care about advertising profits? No, in fact they have the deepest pockets and will be the last ones standing regardless on what you do with twitter and such. They don't need twitter, its focus on engagement just makes their efforts more cost effective. Cut that off and they'll refocus on buying national and local TV networks or whatever else gets eyeballs and attention.

> Society is misdiagnosing the issue here.

I think you are being a bit generous here. It isn't society doing the diagnosing. It's just a group of highly privileged individuals. It's one disinformation entity demanding privileged position in the disinformation space.

All state propagandists complain about disinformation. Whether it is the bbc or chinese propaganda organizations or russian or whatever. They all claim to be worried about and fight against disinformation just like the nytimes. After all, if you are fighting disinformation, then you must not be party to disinformation. But we all know that's a lie.

> That is, the advertising system.

Nope. Disinformation/propaganda/yellow journalism/etc predates the modern age of advertisement. In the past, newspapers were funded by wealthy business people, politicians or government. And they were all created to further the aims of their creator via propaganda. Ask yourself who created the nytimes and why?

> This business model should be illegal.

Nope. You are being misled by disinformation. It's not the business model or the profit generating mechanism. It's the nature of the business itself. News/media/etc exist to manipulate people. It was created to tell people how they should think or feel about events. To guide the herd.

Also, engagement was important long before social media.


Advertising needs to go away. All moral arguments aside, humanity can no longer afford to spend so much energy on something with so little benefit.

I'm curious what kind of business model would incentivize providing accurate, balanced information over spectacle and divisiveness.

It would depend on recommendation algorithms actively promoting that balanced content.

None. That's the problem. We've reached a point where the very engine of humanity's growth, capitalism, has revealed a huge vulnerability in its design.

That flaw was apparent generations ago; yellow journalism isn't a product of the internet age.

Capitalism also isn't the fundamental engine of hunanity’s growth, just a fairly recent stage in the development of economic systems that is likely as transitional as all the past stages.


I think you have the core of the issue here.


Yes, currently the 2nd amendment only guarentees that no censorship comes from government. We need a stronger guarantee: no censorship on any public discourse from any party. Not any kind, because even well intentioned censorship causes problems! Using reddit as an example: suppose there is a subreddit A that discuss news and politics, and the mods ban racist comments. If you are a racist, will you change your racist way if you found your post banned? No, of course not. You would just be indignant and find/make another subreddit B that is more tolerant of racism. The subreddit B is provided the same tools subreddit A uses for censoring racist posts, and abuse these tools to censor any voices that argue against racism. You can no longer be convinced to abandon racism because you are stuck in your comfort zone and anyone who argue against racism are just SJW or special snowflakes in your eyes and their opinions are automatically dismissed by your brain.

Unless you are planning to gun down some state censors, then I'm guessing you mean the first amendment.

Ops... Brain just shortcut

I come from a country where a free speech was never really a thing, and I tell you, americans, this: you don't value it enough.

Restrictions on free speech inevitably lead to some form of censorship, and any form of censorship inevitably leads to the population being subjected to some 'official' version of 'truth'. This 'truth', however, is carefully curated to coerce the population to act in a certain way.

So when Twitter or Facebook start 'fact checking' posts, you shouldn't say 'Twitter is a private company, 1st amendment doesn't apply to it', you should grab pitchforks and put their censorship efforts to rest.


Artists in the soviet era had to employ all kinds of allegories and humor to communicate their experience without being reprimanded by KGB censors. I'll take free speech over assigning any group the power to arbitrate what is considered "disinformation".

Exactly. So every time I see news of twitter/fb 'fact-checking', it reeks to me with a far too familiar KGB / STASI odor.

Going down this path will not end well.


Good point. Although, arguably, "fact checking" is merely replying to what others are saying. It's a "the solution to free speech is more speech" approach.

> "fact checking" is merely replying to what others are saying.

Not if "fact checking" actually means "taking down the post because we disagreed with it".


Right. It should be attaching a fact-based reply.

This is not too hard, because the number of different bogus memes seen in bulk is not that large.


But who will fact-check the fact-checkers? Also, who will ensure that fact-checking rules are consistently applied to everyone?

Agreed. Who snopes the snopes? Did you know Snopes has been shown to be biased since it is ran by people who lean one direction, who stops them from misinforming the public. What about when politicians are exposed and the media shields them are we just going to blindly trust a biased media source?

We need to allow the people to review all evidence and form conclusions from said evidence. I cant tell you how many times I have followed up on media articles only to find that the media just spat anything out for ads. Without all the facts it is bias and speculation.


> has been shown to be biased

Well, go ahead and show us, don't just hand wave this one by.


The basic premise of Snopes is already political of course. Facts vs disinformation is a political question.

Objective reality leans in one direction on America's political spectrum, objective fact checkers are going to lean closer to the left of America's overton window by default.

Well, ultimately it's a question of authority. I cannot, or have no time to, validate even the simplest statements about something non-controversial, e.g. physics, but I choose to trust scientists and ignore some guy on Youtube who claims relativity is a hoax. Removing the video from youtube by the fact-checkers would be problematic anyway, however it would be fine if there was a disclaimer on it referring a specific authority in physics that has views that disagree with it.

The people they fact checked. As long as no one is censored dissenting opinions are free to dispute the facts presented.

What if the fact checkers are the website itself? How do you even stand a chance then? The bias is then forced making it look more legitimate.

The key difference being that if an individual disagrees with Twitter or FB's fact-checking, they can respond by ceasing to feed the beast.

Moving out of a controlling government is much harder than ceasing to go to facebook.com or twitter.com.


Can't I believe both things? I believe that Free Speech is one of the most important rights we have, but I also believe that people utilize their free speech to mislead and do harm.

While it would be nice to believe that "the solution is simple more free speech", and that the truth will win out in the end, is not fully backed up by the evidence. Lies can be carefully crafted to exploit the way human brains work, to mislead people into believing them... the truth is limited, because it has to be true.

So what do we do? I am not able to read the article, but it sounds like they are arguing for some limits on free speech. I share the concerns that people on here, like yourself, have about that. So what techniques can we use to stop misinformation that don't rely on limiting free speech? We can't just sit back and hope the truth will come through, we have too many examples in history to know that doesn't always happen.

If we just sit back and wait for the truth to win out, we might end up in a world where the people using free speech to mislead grab enough power to stop people from using the truth to fight their misinformation.


I think this sums up our predicament: "Lies can be carefully crafted to exploit the way human brains work, to mislead people into believing them... the truth is limited, because it has to be true."

> people utilize their free speech to mislead and do harm

Trust the government, comrades, and fear the people! It's the people that mislead and do harm.

Seems legit.


> Lies can be carefully crafted to exploit the way human brains work,

Well, sure. But the problem is the censors are also human. If crafty lies can deceive the average person, why do we believe that the authorities are any less immune?

I feel like so many times anti-libertarian arguments follow this formula. "Regular people keep making this mistake. So let's just have the government, helpfully stop them from making the mistake. Except of wait... the government is also made up of people who make mistakes." In other words, who watches the watchmen?

Even in a world filled with crafty lies, open speech is the obvious solution. It's much harder to deceive 300 million people than it is to deceive a small agency responsible for "arbitrating truth". Yeah, a lot of people will still screw up and get the wrong answer.

But when millions have access to open information, it's virtually guaranteed that at least some non-neglible subset will figure out the truth. A world with centrally managed opinion is not very robust, and likely to see truths die out completely.


I never said that the government should be the one to do something... I meant society needs to figure something out, because the evidence seems to be showing that a growing percentage of the population is being influenced by falsehoods.

I agree that a world with a centrally managed opinion is not robust and would see truth die out... my fear is that if we DONT do something about the current propaganda, our government will be taken over by people who don't believe in free speech. I want to do something, within the confines of preserving absolute free speech, to help combat that propaganda.

It isn't enough for some non-negligible percentage of the population knows the truth. Even if almost half the people can see through the lies, the other half could gain control and shut down the people who see through the lies.


> It's much harder to deceive 300 million people than it is to deceive a small agency responsible for "arbitrating truth".

In the US, you don't need to deceive 300M people. You just need to deceive enough people (voters, really) to get 270 electoral votes. In 2016, that turned out to be around 63M people.

I'm not arguing with your central point; I do agree that we don't want some central authority deciding what's true and what isn't. But 2016 showed that it was possible to deceive enough people with lies to elect someone who has not really delivered on any of his promises, and has actively hurt most of the people who voted for him. (I won't even get into the toxicity of his political platform as it's not necessary to do so.)

How do we actually combat this? "The solution to bad free speech is more free speech" did not work. I agree that "some non-negligible subset will figure out the truth"; in 2016 that was more than 65M people, but that was not enough. What other options do we have, that don't involve central fact-checking authorities, or, worse, active censorship? I really want to know what they are, because I agree that truth-arbiters and censors are unacceptable.


>> Lies can be carefully crafted to exploit the way human brains work,

> Well, sure. But the problem is the censors are also human. If crafty lies can deceive the average person, why do we believe that the authorities are any less immune?

> I feel like so many times anti-libertarian arguments follow this formula. "Regular people keep making this mistake. So let's just have the government, helpfully stop them from making the mistake. Except of wait... the government is also made up of people who make mistakes." In other words, who watches the watchmen?

If you can't design and build an iPhone from scratch, yourself, then why can Apple? If you personally can't write code that's nearly bug-free, then how can NASA?

Institutions are made up of people that make the same mistakes as the rest of us, but they can also have institutional practices that compensate and correct those mistakes. It's never perfect, but it's something an individual can't really do.

Society needs institutions whose job is to figure out what the truth is, and information dissemination channels that filter out lies and disinformation. Otherwise it'll be blinded. This work can't be mainly put on the shoulders of each individual, because they just don't have the bandwidth.

> But when millions have access to open information, it's virtually guaranteed that at least some non-neglible subset will figure out the truth.

That may not matter when the millions are robustly deceived by the lies.

The truth will probably win out, in the end, but the end might be one, ten, or a hundred years from now. If we're talking about election-influencing disinformation, that's too little, too late.


> Society needs institutions whose job is to figure out what the truth is, and information dissemination channels that filter out lies and disinformation.

We do have these. Scientists and journalists. As we know, they aren’t perfect, but they do pretty well.


> We do have these. Scientists and journalists. As we know, they aren’t perfect, but they do pretty well.

Exactly, and it's a good thing if the social media networks (for instance) follow their lead when it comes to handling disinformation, conspiracy theories, and other lies and falsehoods.

Also not all journalists and media organizations are equally credible, and some effort needs to be made to evaluate them. For instance, here's Wikipedia's: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources/Per....


It was particularly bizarre when Facebook anointed Snopes as an official fact checker, and then Snopes proceeded to "fact check" posts by the Babylon Bee as "fake news". (The Babylon Bee is a humor web site and clearly labeled as such.)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Babylon_Bee


Not clearly enough. Multiple people (including the President) have been tripped up by Bee "news."

You've got to be kidding. How much clearer can they possibly be?

I'm not sure they could be clearer, which is kinda the problem. I don't think these kind of satire sites should be illegal, or even necessarily removed from Facebook. But given how inevitable it seems to be that even reasonably well-informed people will get tricked, it's hard for me to look at them and see a net positive to society.

News stories from satire sites routinely get shared across social media with little context and, very importantly, without anyone clicking on them to check out the source. It may seem absurd to "fact check" them, but it really isn't, particularly ones that aren't very well-known to a wide audience -- which essentially means "anything but the Onion and even they get quoted straight-faced on occasion".

If we start censoring everything people might misinterpret we might as well just throw in the towel at that point.

Pointing out that a satirical article is not actual news is censoring it?

We could put labels next to all text/speakers speaking that say: ‘this is comedy’

I misread that, so I’ll modify my statement. “If we fact check everything people might misinterpret we might as well throw in the towel”.

Babylon Bee and The Onion are exactly fake news. It's humor and satire and looks like news but isn't. What else would you call it?

Somehow fake news started also being applied to news that was sourced and thought to be true when reported, but turned out to be wrong when new informatiom became available. And also, for some people, any news that disagrees with your opinions.


How can you label something as "fake" if it doesn't even pretend to be real? If I buy a cheap wristwatch with a counterfeit Rolex logo then it's a fake. If I buy a cheap wristwatch from Timex then everyone knows it's not a Rolex and only an idiot would call it a "fake Rolex".

The Onion is available in newsprint, like a newspaper (or at least, it was). It has all the trappings of a newspaper, but everything is not real (but the ads). If that doesn't make it a fake newspaper, I don't know what does.

Weekly world news (is that still in print?) is maybe more fake, but they're both fake.


Probably because we've been living the last 4 years in one long Onion article.

Couldn't make up a fraction of what passes for reality these days.


It's worth listening to the people from censorship-heavy countries. The US is better off for not having censorship. Free speech is messy. But it beats the alternative.

It's useful to read what the extremists have to say, if you read the extremists from both sides. You can still read Dabiq, ISIL's magazine, online. (That may have backfired. Their position was, it's a war to the death between our Islam and everybody else. The opposition agreed and crushed them.) It's worth reading what the gun rights people have to say. (Do not carry with a round in the chamber is good advice.) What the "defund the cops" people have to say. What the cop-rights people have to say. What QAnon has to say. What the "FEMA Death Train" people have to say. (Those big windowless railroad cars are car carriers. One believer followed one and put a video on Youtube, and was dismayed when it reached an unloading point and new cars came out.) What the "FEMA coffins" people were excited about. (That was a private storage yard for grave liners. Turned out FEMA doesn't stock coffins, just body bags, and not enough of them for the peak of the coronavirus epidemic.)

Within those extreme points you find the BLM people (who have had it with being shot and harassed), the white supremacists (who are mostly working-class guys who saw their way of life evaporate), the evangelicals (who right now are rudderless, having latched onto Trump, who represents their fears but not their values), and the Universal Basic Income people (that used to be called the "dole" in the UK). All have legitimate grievances. Within that perimeter lies reality. Those people are exploitable by politicians who don't have good solutions but can direct their anger.

That goes back a very long way. Read Shakespeare's version of Caesar's funeral oration.


> Universal Basic Income people (that used to be called the "dole" in the UK)

I'm much more ambivalent than I used to be about UBI, after seeing what large groups of sequestered, out-of-work, bored, and angry people are capable of doing, but just to clarify, UBI is not the same as the dole. The dole is only given to people who are unemployed, whereas UBI is given to everyone.


Probably worth keeping in mind that what you're seeing is sequestered, out-of-work, bored, angry people who still have to make ends meet in a hyper-capitalist society without some kind of guaranteed income.

In general, it's not people with time on their hands who pick up a brick and huck it through a store window; if it were, you'd see more millionaire looters. It's people who don't have anything to lose.


> who still have to make ends meet in a hyper-capitalist society without some kind of guaranteed income.

Not true in the UK, where those out-of-work people have been getting a six-month paid holiday funded by government debt.

Totally agree with GP that the behaviour of those people this year has severely dampened my enthusiasm for UBI.


I agree with you that it’s worthwhile to read what everyone has to say.

One problem is that Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the NYT and the rest of the media, are not that.

Social media places you in a filter bubble, and whatever you click on first shapes everything you’ll see forever, such that your entire worldview is shifted.

The media does essentially the same thing, tailoring it’s articles to match a particular target audience and then feeding them more and more of what they want to hear.

I don’t really know how we break out of this, but I think some level of decentralization - breaking up the social media networks so none of them have more reach than say, CNN, would be a good start.


Sound’s like a simple fix is to not put you in a news-based filter bubble. Randomize all of that.

I think the downvotes are about your assessments on some of these issues.

But you’re absolutely right in that only by reading these varied sources can you approximately discern what’s really going on. Reading bs trains your bs detector. Only read bs and you won’t be able to distinguish it from reality


The comparison is difficult.

Putin, Xi etc. have heavy-handed controls over state media and Xi of course total control over social media. The US is not 'headed in this direction'.

'Free Speech' is the wrong banner for this discussion, as no-one's speech is threatened here - everyone is essentially free to say as they please publicly, and on their own web sites.

The Press is 'free' to say what they want, which includes a ton of bias, but that is what it is.

'Social Media' is a very new thing - it turns out it can be extensively influential and 'memes' from out of nowhere can grab narratives like dogs chasing each other through a crowd.

FB and Twitter are private platforms, concerned with content unlike AT&T, Amazon, email or network providers who are fully neutral - and Social Media has always been censoring content: if you attack individuals or threaten violence etc. you would have been banned 10 years ago.

The algorithms have always been favouring one thing or another using any variety of criteria, so the very nuanced question boils down to the nature of 'truthiness', the degree to which it can be assessed, and how much it can be used for algorithmic purpose - and especially, how could it be done 'fairly'.

I wonder if there are truly objective methods whereby people only ever see posts if they are shared directly by friends, thereby implying a more 'direct' model, like email, whereby if one party wants to chose with a specific, other party, well there's nary anything anyone should censor there.

Alternatively, one could contemplate anything with any political content whatsoever, to be in fact, political, and to be managed in accordance with the same rules for political spending etc. - but that might be altogether too much.

I honestly don't think that this is an existential question to the point wherein industries need to be disrupted or transformed, we are probably 'somewhere near' reasonable at this point, with some modifications we may have a system we can live with.

Finally - it should be noted that 'free expression' doesn't in any way imply 'fair expression' - like a free market, it can be leveraged and dominated by a few small voices who want to 'take control'. There's no reason that a few smart minds couldn't establish control over the narrative whereupon we'd have to ask ourselves if that's what is remotely good for society. As much as we sometimes loathe the press today, there are a lot of checks and balances, along with 'narrative driven news' the MSM are beholden to mostly facts, there's quite a lot of integrity in that system. A 'free for all' wouldn't have any such controls and any kind of real truth could be lost.

Perhaps the best solution would be to just stop using social media as we do. I did, and don't miss it at all.


I find it very interesting (but understandable) that tech people, obsessed with data and informed decision-making, are essentially stating that "this time will be different" when arguing for speech restrictions. Despite all the decades of history of these sorts of things going sideways, somehow we're still optimistic that this time we'll get it right.

I find all the pearl-clutching on HN about "free speech" to be rather boring when these have always been heavily moderated platforms run by for-profit businesses that have always given special treatment to whatever advertisers were willing to pay the most. Nobody bats an eye when they're the ones profiting off of it.

I'm sorry if that's dismissive but it's extremely frustrating hearing these kinds of things in the context of social media companies, who have never had a problem with advertisers milking FOMO and gaslighting their entire audience with this stuff for years now. (you are inadequate if you don't buy this product, you are a loser if you don't share this article right now, you are an enemy of the state if you don't vote for this candidate, etc) And actually they love all that because it drives clicks!

The uncomfortable situation they find themselves in now is: At what point is the line drawn, where companies and special interests with millions to spend on ads can no longer lie and gaslight the public? It seems to have been easier for these companies to be the ones to dismiss this when the stakes weren't as high.


> I find all the pearl-clutching on HN about "free speech" to be rather boring when these have always been heavily moderated platforms run by for-profit businesses that have always given special treatment to whatever advertisers were willing to pay the most. Nobody bats an eye when they're the ones profiting off of it.

"You say you're in favor of free speech, yet when I run into your house screaming obscenities you try to kick me out. Interesting."

HN isn't the only discussion site. Reddit isn't the only discussion site. The big social media companies don't own the Internet, and iHeartMedia doesn't own radio. It's vital we have alternatives, and laws to ensure those alternatives exist can be discussed, but saying that people don't really value free speech when they prefer moderated discussion spaces doesn't track. It's trying to equate unlike things, and create a contradiction where there is none.


i thought the point was that it's easy to pretend to be an absolutist, but I find a lot of free speech advocates turn a blind eye to censorship and deception when it's not explicitly political, but just for financial gain.

And my point is that commercial censorship can be circumvented by going to a competitor, whereas political censorship can only be circumvented by becoming a political refugee. We need to stop monopolies, but that isn't much to do with free speech law, is it?

That's what I'm saying, it's irrelevant.

There are speech controls everywhere except on your own private website.

The MSM press, despite being narrative driven has tons of controls, they hold each other accountable in ways, they generally stay in the domain of facts.

Social Media has always been censored, if you try to attack people or incite violence on Twitter, you'd get banned 10 years ago, nothing new about that.

YouTube has been dropping channels for a long time now, mostly anything that upsets advertisers etc..

The issue isn't so much 'Free Speech' or 'Censorship' in the classical sense - it would be if web sites were being taken down, or, if the White House for example forbade MSM to talk about certain issues, or worse, took control over MSM outlets.

It's more subtle than that.


Well too much free speech on Facebook allegedly caused the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. Either that free speech sensationalized the role of Facebook in the genocide to the point where Facebook doesn't have free speech.

Or just stop using their services? I like that we've just sort of accepted that Facebook and Twitter are trans-government institution level monopolies and that there's nothing we can do about it, or have better alternatives. There's no mandatory reason to have a twitter or facebook, there's plenty of ways you can connect with someone. And I'd happily trade online messaging for personal communication especially if I'm concerned about censorship and privacy rights from that institution.

This is like saying: I come from a country where free market was never a real thing and you should oppose even the slightest regulation, anti-trust laws etc.

I too grew up without free speech in a dictatorship and believe fervently in free speech. However I believe too that dictating to a company what speech they can have or can't have on their platform is a violation of free speech in itself. It is their right to disagree with someone's opinion and to deny them access to their platform. If we disagree with that action we punish with our eyeballs, or our wallets or we build our own.

That these platforms are so huge is a problem for sure but doesn't automatically classify them as institutions owned by the public. There are other ways to deal with companies that get too big.


I came into the article expecting to hate it, but the author eventually kind of won me over. She doesn't think Americans should abandon free speech, but she does think we should approach it more like Germany and France.

> Germany and France have laws that are designed to prevent the widespread dissemination of hate speech and election-related disinformation. “Much of the recent authoritarian experience in Europe arose out of democracy itself,” explains Miguel Poiares Maduro [...] “The Nazis and others were originally elected. In Europe, there is historically an understanding that democracy needs to protect itself from anti-democratic ideas.”


Guess what are two most frequent reason for site blocking and prosecution of dissidents in Russia? Articles 280 (Calls to extremism), 282 (actions aimed at inciting hatred or enmity, humiliation of human dignity).

So you say on VK (one of russian social networks), "Corrupt mayor from the ruling party is a crook and must be prosecuted"... well, you are inciting hatred to the ruling party. With luck you'll get 2 years of suspended sentence.


I don't think Russia a functioning democracy and a state with a functioning rule of law to begin with so as an example it is a poor one. But Germany and France fare pretty good on this front.

Yeah—if there's one misgiving I have with the article, it's that they never really address the question of "who makes the rules?" It sounds like one reason Germany and France have fewer problems is that everyone there is just... more responsible.

> Two days before [France's] national election, the Russians posted online thousands of emails from En Marche!, the party of Emmanuel Macron, who was running for president. France, like several other democracies, has a blackout law that bars news coverage of a campaign for the 24 hours before an election and on Election Day. But the emails were available several hours before the blackout began. They were fair game. Yet the French media did not cover them. Le Monde, a major French newspaper, explained that the hack had “the obvious purpose of undermining the integrity of the ballot.”

Can you imagine the American media completely ignoring a major leak because it had “the obvious purpose of undermining the integrity of the ballot"? I know I can't!

But also—that blackout law is an example of a measure that seems like utter common sense! Don't allow sudden bombshells to go off right before voting starts, when there isn't enough time to calm down and examine them reasonably. America should adopt something similar.

My overall takeaway from the article was that free speech can both protect and threaten democracies. Russia is certainly an example of what can go wrong when speech is restricted, but Hitler is an equally salient example of how misinformation can be used seize power. The harsh reality is that Democracy is extremely fragile, and faces threats from both sides!


There's nothing responsible about concealing relevant information from voters.

If it's relevant, sure! But I don't consider lies spread by a hostile foreign government to advance its own interests to be relevant information.

If country's own citizens do the voting, I'm personally fine with anyone influencing them. If we postulate that people are responsible and reasonable enough to have a say in the elections, it is an insult to assume that they are some weak-minded fools who can be easily swayed by a hostile foreign government.

Insulting or not, we already have Exhibit A: the US 2016 Presidential election.

In all seriousness, I think you're framing it the wrong way. It's really: they are normal human beings with fallible intellect and emotions who can be swayed by the sophisticated propaganda campaigns of a hostile foreign government.


Yeah, the US 2016 Presidential election. The losing side is so devastated by the loss, that it still can't accept that it's their own compatriots who didn't elect their rather questionable candidate, so they are desperately grasping any other explanation, why she lost.

Americans did the voting, not Putin. If $200k of ads did the job, well, Dems should have spent $201k to counter that.

Also, are you suggesting that any foreign power can cheaply puppeteer the feeble-minded US population? Of so, maybe you need some form of authoritarian rulership to protect the people. Or else, I'm sure, even Iran and North Korea will find a few million bucks to install their own presidents.


> it is an insult to assume that they are some weak-minded fools who can be easily swayed by a hostile foreign government.

Just because some might consider it an insult does not mean it may not be true as well.


It's not an insult, the other way around, it's naive to think that the general population acts intelligently with respect to information available to them on an ad-hoc basis.

All nations media outlets are absolutely protected and controlled industries for this very reason.

Information can be wrong, totally misrepresented, hyperbolic, it can reach large numbers of individuals wherein contrasting information cannot.

The objective of a 'foreign actor' is not to 'inform' citizens, it's the opposite - it's to use 'information' possibly 'truthy' to manipulate elections towards their desired outcomes.

If a foreign state wants to release 'important information' to 'inform' citizens, then it can be released with enough time for that to be vetted, digested and disseminated properly.

More than 1/2 of the vote is based on emotional decision making around specific subjects, were the media open to influence by other parties, it would be possible to control electoral outcomes when margins are +/- just a few points, as so many elections are these days.

If Putin is behind the 'Hunter Biden leaks' - that's fine, the truth is the truth, but not 10 days before an election it isn't.


> that's fine, the truth is the truth, but not 10 days before an election it isn't.

Why not? It's like watching a romantic movie, when a good guy crashes a wedding of a loved one in a last minute, and instead of "speak now or forever hold your peace" tell him "but not in 10 days before the wedding!"


Because it's nothing like that, and Putin is not 'a good guy' with noble intentions.

Trust me, living in Russia, I know a lot more about Putin than you do. However, the truth is the truth.

On an unrelated note: seing fisthand how Putin's propaganda is working in the internet, it is beyond laughable how much power and influence you americans ascribe to Putin. His internet 'troll' factory is not a sophisticated tool for propaganda, it's a blunt factory that simply floods every comment section with low-quality noise. Of all money that were meant to influence the elections, 99% were, without any doubt, simply stolen. Trump's victory in 2016 is not a consequence of some elections meddling, but simply a coincidence.

As one prominent member of russian opposition said (btw I know him personally, as in 'shaking hands personally'), “What is happening with ‘the investigation into Russian interference,’ is not just a disgrace but a collective eclipse of the mind.” [1] [2]

[1]: https://www.facebook.com/leonid.m.volkov/posts/1585818548107... [2]: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/23/world/europe/russia-vladi...


I support so called hate speech. This narrative is abused to censor and support extreme views which are just as damaging as their so called mission to quell so called extremists.

I agree with regard to hate speech (although "support" is too strong a term). What the Westboro Baptist Church does is abhorrent, but I'm in favor of their right to say those things (although I don't think private companies need to give them a platform).

But this article is primarily focused on "misinformation", and I think that's more complicated. It's one thing to legitimately believe something abhorrent, and to express that abhorrent view in "good faith." Knowingly spreading something you know to be false, however, is another matter—not entirely unlike engaging in fraud, or shouting fire in a crowded theater.


Nobody in the Westboro baptist church is causing mass protests and riots either to put it in perspective. But because they are a nutjob right wing christian sect, the internet overlooks that. Because it's not part of "their tribe."

We promise, we're only going to ban """"hate speech""""!

Oh wait, who decides what "hate speech" is?


the law, the courts, parliament, civic institutions, the same people who define what assault, libel or the speed limit is.

History has shown these groups have gotten things wrong time and time again, why should we let them determine what is legal to say?

How much harder would it be to fight for civil rights if that was deemed subversive or abhorent, and subversive or abhorent speech was prohibited?


because being wrong doesn't derive people from the ability to govern themselves? We should let them determine what is legal to say for the same reasons we should let them determine what is legal, period. Speech is not magical in any way.

>How much harder would it be to fight for civil rights if that was deemed subversive or abhorent, and subversive or abhorent speech was prohibited?

If the population already deemed civil rights abhorent I'm not exactly sure the legality of it matters a great deal tbh, it's not like a lot of civil rights protest was legal to begin with


Agreed. I can’t stand this rhetoric of “I can think of a way this reasonable and useful policy might possibly be abused so let’s throw the entire thing in the trash. I refuse to mitigate any harm or accede to any policy unless it’s perfect!”

Oh cool! So you would've been okay with labeling abolitionism as hate speech? What about miscegenation?

In every era in history, people have always thought that "our era has finally got it right, we're not like those heartless savages of the past generations and we're not like those degenerates in the next generation".


I'm not really sure I follow these strange examples, how does one classify abolitionism as hate speech and gets this past judges, journalists, elected officials and everyone else?

We have laws against Holocaust denialism in Germany. If Angela Merkel tomorrow tries to use those laws to attack her political opponents everyone will declare her mad, she won't be relected, and probably sued. That's why rules can exist in a state of law, because you can't just do random crap with them

This absurdist logic doesn't just apply to speech. Why have laws against riots? Obviously every protest can be declared a riot. Why have a police at all, they can be tyrannical etc.. This is no argument


> how does one classify abolitionism as hate speech and gets this past judges, journalists

Gag rule against discussing slavery?


Germany and France don't have free speech. If there's speech that you receive legal action for then it isn't free.

Well... then free speech doesn't exist anywhere, because notwithstanding laws against libel, slander, false advertising, perjury etc, there's really no place in the world which doesn't have some form of societal taboos, standards of politeness and courtesy, or notions of acceptable behavior which will lead to consequences if transgressed.

Edit: I see you changed "If there's speech that you receive consequences for then it isn't free" to "If there's speech that you receive legal action for then it isn't free." I'm assuming you were just trying to disambiguate, but even by that more narrow definition freedom of speech is practically nonexistent.


(I don't actually think the GP's edit changed your argument at all. Libel, slander, false advertising, and purjury all come with legal consequences.)

Weird because I'm German and I wasn't aware that I'm living in North Korea. Did the US patent the definition of free speech or something?

I don't even know how people can say this stuff with a straight face. It's like saying "the US does not have healthcare" because of policy differences.


> Weird because I'm German and I wasn't aware that I'm living in North Korea. Did the US patent the definition of free speech or something?

Oh my god, I'm so stealing that one. I've heard the "USA is the only country with freedom" argument way too many times.


> I don't even know how people can say this stuff with a straight face.

It's not too difficult to do so, when there are examples of courts banning satirical poems of a foreign leader from being uttered: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38934027

Would something like this ever happen in the US? Could you provide an example?


Is a thought a crime though?

Only if it is a thoughtcrime.

Well, as long as we recognize marxism as morally equivalent to nazism and, while suppressing the openly far-right movements/publications/elected politicians, suppress the openly far-left ones.

...just kidding, I am a free speech absolutist. I feel like the leftist sudden dislike on free speech is similar to that of trumpist dislike of the media in 2015. They know that they are extremist, and they know they are wrong.


Right on.

We used to have free speech in the 1960s in Canada but we removed this. We created an opening to start policing speech.

Why are Canadian's so polite? Because you can go to prison for up to 2 years though more often than not it's just compensation. AKA "including compensation for injury to dignity, feelings and self-respect"

Hurting someone's feelings will send you to a non-judicial court where you do not have innocent until proven guilty. You must prove you didn't do it. Though it seems literally the only way to not be charged is to threaten taking it to the supreme court.

Worse yet, it has also created the 'you're a racist' thing. In order to silence your political opponents out of fear of being brought up on these charges. You get called a racist.

In BC they even teach kids in school to be right-wing is to be a racist: https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/racism-a-right-wing-value-b-c-...

Then you can see why no right-wing parties are represented in their elections: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_British_Columbia_general_...


Coming from a country where free speech "was never really a thing" implies that your government either stops you from conveying X, retaliates, or is unwilling to protect you from another entity doing the same.

I find it strange that anyone in that situation would equate it with social media sites removing or flagging content published on their platform.


It's ironic that Emily Bazelon, the author of this essay, is the granddaughter of the late influential federal judge David Bazelon. Judge Bazelon was a well-known progressive and a well-known free speech proponent. Although his granddaughter shares his broadly progressive worldview, her position on this issue is different.

The evolution from David to Emily reflects that of the US left as a whole. Most people like to praise free speech as a theory. In practice, it is a tool for those who don't occupy the commanding heights of a culture to push back against those who do. When the New Left was ascendant in the 1960s and 1970s, promotion of free speech was an important component of its rise to cultural power. Now that its intellectual descendants occupy the commanding heights, they view it as a threat rather than an asset.


> In practice, it is a tool for those who don't occupy the commanding heights of a culture to push back against those who do.

But isn't the article arguing the exact opposite?

It warns that those in power now use the shield of "free speech" to push propaganda and lies in order to undermine truth and democracy and thereby attempt to preserve power. Which is not something anyone saw coming, and which deserves to be treated as a serious danger.

This is completely and utterly different from using free speech to promote civil rights, transparency, etc. The New Left wasn't weaponizing free speech to spread disinformation, so the two situations would appear to be completely distinct.


I don't know what to make of the idea of the powerless censoring the powerful to protect truth and democracy. If you can censor your opponents, you are per definition powerful. If you are worried about your opponents use of the "shield of free speech" to protect themselves from you, you are worried about limits on your power.

> The New Left wasn't weaponizing free speech to spread disinformation

Yes, they were. They were advocating a way of organizing society that had already killed tens of millions of people and would go on to kill tens of millions more. And they were relying on their audience not being aware of the death toll.


One thing that occurred to me while I listening to this article last night: I would not mind laws which restrict obvious and provable lies, in circumstances where the individual knew they were lying. You would need to adopt an extremely high standard for prosecution, similar to libel—no suing someone for being wrong, or having a strange belief, or saying something that's misleading but has a shred of truth.

But, I don't think it's good for society that I can create a fake website purporting to be a way to vote online, and send it to members of an opposing political party to suppress their vote. If I know that I'm lying, there should be laws against that.

If we don't do anything, our problems are going to get so much worse as deep fakes improve and doctored footage becomes indistinguishable from reality.


I agree. But how do you stop a foreign actor from doing the abuse? I think this is where we need to lay the responsibility at the feet of the social media networks that allow this to happen.

The only way that argument makes sense is if one views their own political in-group as being the arbiters of true - never wrong, never taking the wrong side, never abusing power. If history has shown us anything it's that humans with power are really bad at those things.

What comes across as so hypocritical is that the people calling for restrictions on free speech were the same ones who benefitted from free speech in the past as they sought to push back against the establishment.


The fact is, people reading only the New York Times, HuffPo, CNN, etcetera, are completely engulfed in a disinformation environment. They're basically abuse victims.

As opposed to those who feast on the likes of Breitbart and Murdoch... pull the other one please.

Breitbart/Fox News readers aren't the ones having mental breakdowns.

How about no one should eat the same food group all the time? I get news from here (leftist), reddit (averaged to moderate when all my subs are taken into consideration), Google News (more leftist than not), and 9GAG/Imgur when they post political social stuff. Fairly well rounded.

You're only eating junk food

It depends on what my links are in Reddit.

> It warns that those in power now use the shield of "free speech" to push propaganda and lies in order to undermine truth and democracy and thereby attempt to preserve power.

Except with new media no one can really push information, it is mostly up to the recommendation algorithms to propagate the messages, which is optimized for creating more engagement and ad dollars. This, singlehandedly damages more of democratic processes, which depend on healthy discourse, than any questionable content put into it.

> now use the shield of "free speech" to push propaganda and lies in order to undermine truth

Is there a form of free speech, contents of which you disagree that doesn’t push propaganda or undermine some definition of your truth? In other words, in this version of narrative warfare, every opponent narrative is already “propaganda”, every disagreement is “destroying democracy”.

Except truth is hardly an out there objectivity to which propgandic words magically render our eyes blind. It is a process of dialectic; disagreements that can be integrated together and form a more comprehensive picture of our musings in an infinite problem space.

It is the false sense of certainty, including utopian ideas of its attainability with likes of “fact checks” and judicious restriction of speech that destroy this process, and with it any hope of integrating opposing worldviews without wanting to hurt those who hold them.


> Except truth is hardly an out there objectivity

Except truth by definition is objective. Opinions and beliefs are subjective. The earth is spherically shaped - this is not a subjective opinion, it is objective truth.

> including utopian ideas of its attainability with likes of “fact checks”

Aren't "fact checks" part of the free discussion? If a leader is spewing lots of falsehoods then it's up to the 4th estate to fact check him/her.


> Except truth by definition is objective

Except metaphysics of truth has been discussed for centuries and things are more complicated than that. Truth on matters most interesting to us is mostly transjective (neither objective nor subjective but depends on the interaction between the agent and the arena), because which truth you pursue is as important as what the thing is in itself, and the information we could seek about most things in themselves is inexhaustibly large.

“Earth is spherically shaped” is not an “objective truth” if you are calculating the response time of your radio transmission of your satellite over a ground station up north, you need to get more precise than a “sphere”.

> Aren't "fact checks" part of the free discussion?

Certainly they are allowed, but they are posturing an institutional authority they don’t have. It is not a magical epistemology machine that you can put in bleeding edge scientific research in and it will spew “truth”s out.

They are attempts to monopolize truth finding process, cheat the way out of dialectic with more institutions. There is no board or organization of “fact checkers”, no standards, no transparency. It is a branding gimmick.


> “Earth is spherically shaped” is not an “objective truth” if you are calculating the response time of your radio transmission of your satellite over a ground station up north, you need to get more precise than a “sphere”.

https://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.ht...

> The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.

> My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

"Truth is hard, let's go Postmodern!" isn't a valid conclusion. It's an escape hatch, a refusal to make a best effort and, when it's about something that matters, a horribly dangerous practice which essentially cedes the field to the idiots who have no such scruples. "VACCINES BAD! VACCINES AUTISM!" is idiocy, it's dangerous, and it must be countered, not implicitly allowed to pass because what is "Facts" anyway, man?


> "Truth is hard, let's go Postmodern!" isn't a valid conclusion. It's an escape hatch, a refusal to make a best effort and, when it's about something that matters, a horribly dangerous practice which essentially cedes the field to the idiots who have no such scruples.

Postmodernism is not the only critique of Kant. Although you're fighting a strawman, I agree with your criticism of postmodernism as used today, but that is not what I was talking about.

I am arguing indeed for making the best effort and especially about something that really matters. And it turns out "this is the objective truth" is one of the other escape hatches, especially since most of the questions that really matter are far more complex than the shape of our planet. Ethics, meaning, policy etc. they all require an ongoing process of being less wrong, which best works in opponent processing. There is rarely a terminal value for truth for these questions, there is always going to be an ongoing tension because the part of the reality we are trying to capture is inexhaustably complex. People who wrote the religious texts thought they were able to capture and codify the algorithm for "the right way", but we now see how inadequate they can be for our 21st century context. Anytime someone thought they had the key algorithm for utopia, they turned out to be the most evil machineries of our history sooner or later.

> But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."

I think that guy is the most wrong. Because "what are we going to use this information for, what adjacent information that we haven't yet might be interesting, are we framing the question right" is the most critical parts of the query that goes unasked. If we are talking about walking on the street, the flat earth guy is just as correct as the sphere guy. Notice I am not saying his epistemology is correct, nor he is entitled to his own opinion and we should be pluralistic. I am saying as long as both guys only walk on the street, the difference opinions are completely inconsequential.

Now expand this to a question no one has a clear answer for. E.g. economic policy; some want it sphere, some want it flat. No doubt newspapers will be filled with people "it is flat, this is the objective truth". That is the use of going "hang on a second, we don't do objective truth here, we humbly pursue being less wrong, now dialogue with us, don't rhetorize your talking points, just honestly talk to us". Sadly, nowadays mass of the public discourse happens over channels that doesn't reward that but rhetoric and likes.


Your whole position assumes that the other person has some kernel of truth to what they're saying. A flat Earth assumption can be right in some circumstances, but the "VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM" assumption is just insanity. It's wrong, and if your epistemology won't let you say it's wrong, your epistemology is broken, not vaccines.

> Your whole position assumes that the other person has some kernel of truth to what they're saying.

Exactly. They might have been fed garbage propositions that explain their garbage conclusions, but calling them insane, crazy, <pick-your-favorite-slur> is just a cop out of discomfort of the dialogue and co-existence, through the way of sub-humanizing them.

> It's wrong, and if your epistemology won't let you say it's wrong, your epistemology is broken, not vaccines.

I’d say on the contrary, “epistemologies” that demand purity and certainty (ideology is a better term for this) don’t tend to explain reality well and because of that they don’t survive in the long run. They are inherently maladaptive.


That's a lot of words to say you think vaccines cause autism.

>Except truth by definition is objective. Opinions and beliefs are subjective. The earth is spherically shaped - this is not a subjective opinion, it is objective truth.

Except in politics we seldom care about such hard truths, but about which policy is best, what's better, what's moral, etc, which is subjective.


Existence itself is subjective. Reality itself is objective, but anything we touch has a hint of subjectivity present, inherent to our existence. The true falsehood is that there is an objective reality that we can perceive.

This is very similar to Mao imprisoning people for "threatening the revolution". The revolution is good when it serves them but not when it threatens their hold on power. They now want to ban free speech because it is against their power interests.

Matt Taibbi writes about this a lot. Free speech used to be a cornerstone of liberal/progressive values. In only 50 short years that's been abandoned to prevent the "fomenting of discord".

I came here to express the same sentiment, but you did it first and you did it better. Thank you.

> In practice, it is a tool for those who don't occupy the commanding heights of a culture to push back against those who do.

And this is a good thing. The commanding heights of culture should be as contestable as possible; this is what makes for an open society.


The commenter you are quoting is praising free speech. Yes, it is a good thing.

To belabor the point, what's ironic is that in the 1990s it was the right, 'the religious right', that wanted to censor free speech -- such as the speech of rap artists. Now it is the left that attacks free speech and wants to censor rap artists.

Previously it was the church that wanted to censor free speech. Now it is progressives, who 'f------ love science', who want to censor uncomfortable scientific results.

Somehow the teams, and costumes, changed.


You’re a bit off in characterizing the 90’s assault on free speech as something only the right did. Tipper Gore had quite the problem with Prince...

This quote from the article describes the dynamic in the US pretty accurately, in my opinion.

> The conspiracy theories, the lies, the distortions, the overwhelming amount of information, the anger encoded in it — these all serve to create chaos and confusion and make people, even nonpartisans, exhausted, skeptical and cynical about politics. The spewing of falsehoods isn’t meant to win any battle of ideas. Its goal is to prevent the actual battle from being fought, by causing us to simply give up.

If that’s what awaits the future “heights of culture,” if that’s how you think people will ultimately get influence in the future, I don’t think there will be much of a culture left to have lofty opinions about freedom or speech.


No part of the 60s New Left occupies the commanding heights outside of a few Ramparts Magazine born-again Catholic neocons. This is a fantasy of right-wingers who try to roll the US black civil rights struggle and working-class socialism into a big ball of University Judeo-Bolshevism.

edit: That gay people, black people, and women have to be considered now is not left-wing politics, which are about class. That people other than white men have a voice is a rational, liberal outgrowth of the civil rights movement. Other than that, mainstream politics moved aggressively to the right until the bottom fell out of the capitalist utopian theory in 2008.


Given how much the issue of free speech comes up here on HN -- especially regarding Twitter, Facebook, and politics -- I think this is a really important article for people to read.

It's long, but is extremely nuanced and shows that the issue is far more complex than just "the solution to offensive speech is more speech".

One key takeaway is in the middle:

> [Free speech is] a fundamentally optimistic vision: Good ideas win. The better argument will prove persuasive. There’s a countertradition, however. It’s alert to the ways in which demagogic leaders or movements can use propaganda, an older term that can be synonymous with disinformation. A crude authoritarian censors free speech. A clever one invokes it to play a trick, twisting facts to turn a mob on a subordinated group and, in the end, silence as well as endanger its members. Looking back at the rise of fascism and the Holocaust in her 1951 book “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the political philosopher Hannah Arendt focused on the use of propaganda to “make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism.”

> In other words, good ideas do not necessarily triumph in the marketplace of ideas. “Free speech threatens democracy as much as it also provides for its flourishing,” the philosopher Jason Stanley and the linguist David Beaver argue in their forthcoming book, “The Politics of Language.”

But most of all the article shows that the history of free speech in the US is not simple at all -- and that our current view of it is very different from the period of 1949-1987 when broadcasters were subject to the "fairness doctrine", which I think most people today aren't even aware of.


> [Free speech is] a fundamentally optimistic vision: Good ideas win. The better argument will prove persuasive.

Wrong, wrong, wrong! Free speech is pessimistic as heck. It's saying that good ideas don't necessarily win, but if you allow authoritarians to engage in arbitrary censorship then bad ideas will always win. Censoring free speech is not just a "crude authoritarian's" move; it's what all authoritarians do whenever they feel they can get away with it. And censorship won't save you from propaganda either: there's a lot of crude propaganda in every totalitarian regime, happily coexisting with censorship of every other point of view!

Free speech is NOT a problem: it's a very real safeguard against critical threats. If you treat it like one, you haven't seriously engaged with the issue.


Well, traditionally according to political philosophy, free speech is most associated with John Stuart Mill who did praise it out of optimism. That is the common understanding of it.

I'm not sure what philosophical viewpoint you're referring to when you describe it as "pessimistic as heck".

If you want to seriously engage with the issue, the article explores a lot of aspects of it, and why 100% unfettered free speech is potentially a problem to democracy.


Mill promoted free speech realistically as better than the alternative, is how I'd put it. Here's where he made his case; it's not too long to read: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_Liberty/Chapter_2

But he lived well before the age of the internet and maybe, you know, just maybe when the world changes we should adapt to it rather than to dogmatically hold that what one person thought a couple of hundred years ago should be enshrined and never ever be changed lest the sky falls down.

I completely agree that citing authority is not an argument. I only contend here that the GP made an inaccurate summary in dismissing Mill's argument; and that argument is only one chapter, not the whole book as you might think from the way it's cited. You might find it pretty on point: he wrote in Victorian times which were also a local maximum of social pressure to profess the correct thoughts. Also a time with unprecedented new media (though I don't recall that topic coming up in this chapter).

I find it hilarious that my comment got flagged by - supposedly - the proponents of free speech.

Sigh, humans are gonna human.

One of the problems with suppressing criticism of even things that are completely true and right, as Mill points out, is that people come to believe the true thing in only a hollow way. I've been thinking that may have happened to the doctrine of free speech itself in the U.S. -- becoming just a slogan kids learn to parrot in school. Hollow it enough and it's easily lost.

(Added: I found I could unflag your comment. I think the snark was undeserved but it wasn't nearly enough for flagging.)


I think you're well past that stage already. Plenty of people parrot the founders as though they had some kind of divine insight into what makes a good state, rather than to see political systems as subsequent attempts to learn from mistakes made in the past. It is very well possible that 'free speech' should be sacrosanct, but the US is doing a piss-poor job of showing that that is the case.

Political systems come and they go, so far the 'free speech' countries are not doing remarkably better than the countries with some limitations on free speech and it would be good to recognize this and to see what can be learned from each other rather than to put dogma first.


Variation in laws and norms is a valuable teacher, and there's a lot of shallow faith in the civic religion, agreed on that much. I'm kind of too lazy to argue with you here about the rest.

The affordances of social media could be much better designed for preserving the memetic edge the more true ought to have over the more false; OTOH the way Twitter and Facebook are going about this attempt at reform is heavy-handed folly that's already backfiring. (http://www.islandone.org/Foresight/WebEnhance/HPEK1.html from the 1980s shows by example that it is possible to think ahead about societal consequences of the design of communications media. That particular paper focused on more scholarly publishing, but it's not like that's unimportant either.)


I think the problem is advertising. Advertising causes media to focus on the controversy because it is what drives engagement. Business-as-usual would not drive engagement nearly as much as outrage does.

How do you know why you got flagged or by whom?

It typically shows 'flagged' in the line above the comment.

But you said you were flagged by the proponents of free speech. How would you know that?

FWIW this proponent didn't even downvote it, though I was kind of irritated by the 'dogmatic', etc.

Is that improper use of the word? I thought it came close enough to the intended meaning.

Maybe, you know, just maybe we can learn something from people writing on timeless issues, even if they wrote before the lastest technological change.

In that case, let's make the bible our literal guide and get it over with.

Of course you can learn something from people writing on timeless issues. But by making them the dogmatic truth you get locked in.


No. Principles are there precisely for when the world changes.

> dogmatically hold that what one person thought a couple of hundred years ago should be enshrined and never ever be changed lest the sky falls down.

You know what's great about free speech? It's great at holding dogma at bay.

How do you challenge dogma without free speech?


Exactly, in fact it doesn't even matter what comes out of it there is simply no alternative to Free Speech that could work. Free Speech at least can work that's more than any other concept has to offer.

Free speech is a Monte Carlo method - it certainly delivers a probably good solution.

But there's no guarantee that it will. When people argue that free discourse will eventually always end up at the "best" place (whatever they define "best" to be) it almost sounds like some kind of appeal to a diety.

Everything you said is 100% true.

Anyone who tries to take this right, or any other right, away from you is planning to, in the long run, kill you. History tells us this very clearly.


I wonder if the argument you've highlighted is a good idea, or a particularly dangerous one. Maybe we should discuss it and find out. Or maybe we should call what you're saying 'propaganda' and ban it outright, since it might call for 'radical' and 'potentially destabilizing' 'changes to our democracy'.

It would be too bad if you could only present it as an opinion, in limited arenas far away from anyone who might disagree. I wonder who the next 'protected minority' will be, and what, exactly, they will need to be 'protected' from.

Aren't you glad we have freedom of speech, so that you can make this thought of yours known?


In practice, free speech is easy to lose. Say we start with equal free speech for both sides of some spectrum. As some ideas from one spectrum take hold, they are selected for. After a while, the ideas of one spectrum slightly overtake the ideas of another, then it's easy for that side to now try and silence the other side and lose that freedom of speech.

It's kind of like that common saying that pure evil is the belief that there is nothing left to know. That's what losing free speech does. It's society thinking "our system right now is the best" and not bothering to try and improve things.


Since the point clearly went over your head or you just decided to give that snotty reply to a strawman you came up with: parent was saying good ideas don't win if demagogues can hold a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas in the same way that, say, the ISP industry can hold broadly anti-consumer policies that customers don't do anything about because it is locally not a free market.

To expand it further, I would argue stuff like Twitter and Facebook that optimize for engagement are already not free speech since they are designed for only the most outrageous (and likely false) content to flourish.


There's no straw man in the argument you're replying to. All that was said was "maybe the idea that things should be censored is a bad idea and should be censored." It is a very clever way to demonstrate the danger of what you're potentially prepared to embrace, and how it can be used against you.

Nobody can hold a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas. Nobody. That genie is out of the bottle.


No, it is a straw man. The idea that crazygringo highlighted was simply the notion that maybe the best ideas don't win in a free marketplace of ideas. The straw man presented was that you wouldn't be able to discuss this at all if there was no free speech.

But there are regulations on free speech and they are sensible. My understanding of speech regulations in the USA is that they primarily need to be focused on time, place and manner restrictions unless they fall into some exceptions that typically don't matter (edit: typically don't matter in political discussions).

A sensible manner restriction: you will generally be told to move along if you are shouting your message at the top of your lungs in a public place. Especially so if it is the middle of the night.

How you speak your message can be regulated in a more easily balanced way, although it is somewhat dangerous as well. This leads to potential place, manner restrictions online. A manner restriction can easily be content neutral.

A manner restriction: you could maybe regulate the use of sock puppets or fake accounts.

Here you see it is a strawman argument to say we could not have a discussion regarding whether good ideas will win in a marketplace where sock puppets are banned.


>parent was saying good ideas don't win if demagogues can hold a monopoly on the marketplace of ideas

Well, that's irrelevant, as free speech is not about "good ideas winning", but all ideas being able to be heard.

Saying that some are "demagogues" is begging the question, and presumes one side has the good ideas, and the other doesn't.

Which, whether is the case or not, should be irrelevant from the perspective of free speech.

"Free speech for good ideas" is not free speech, it's a dictatorship of people prescribing and controlling which ideas are to be considering good.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?


No one cared about free speech until Trump was elected. Propaganda isn't anything new, it's used by demagogues to blame society's woes on [insert scapegoat here]

Rather than address society's woes (there are so many in the US) We're just told it's somehow different this time, because it's digital. This just doesn't hold up when you see that this story has played out many times in the past, it's predictable to anyone paying attention.


I'd argue that no one cared about restricting free speech until Trump was elected -- unless that's what you meant.

Just as no one really cared about political demonstrations until they turned violent. Not like Kent State violence but roving 'blocks' overturning cars and lighting things on fire.


I had to read your post and the GP post multiple times and I'm still confused. It doesn't seem like you're talking at all to what they said but are stating a very well worn argument for free speech, that is, if some speech is to be curtailed, then all speech is under threat of being curtailed.

But the GP was precisely talking about how even though many would say "we have freedom of speech", what that actually means in practice falls far short of the mark. We "have freedom of speech" in the sense that many people hold the ideology. But holding an ideology is very different from having that ideology realized.


Nothing in their post or the article says that things shouldn't be up for discussion. That's not even the point of it.

The point has been about whether more powerful figures can use their platform to drown out the free speech of others and the lack of accountability.

The article is in fact calling for more accountability, which is precisely what your comment about discussion would be.

You're in effect reinforcing both the articles point and the points shared by the person you're replying to


> The point has been about whether more powerful figures can use their platform to drown out the free speech of others

The article isn't focusing on that aspect, though. It's suggesting that falsehoods and propaganda can flood the zone with so much shit that people are just tired of trying to sort though it to figure out what's actually true and what isn't. The modern (post-modern?) demagogue doesn't bother with curtailing free speech, they just put out many false narratives like Putin does. "The spewing of falsehoods isn’t meant to win any battle of ideas. Its goal is to prevent the actual battle from being fought, by causing us to simply give up."


Not only is our view of free speech different today, but the US has a long history of censoring minority groups. Take the Hays code for instance which made it de facto against the law for movies to portray gay men in a positive way or "race mixing" at all. That was around until nearly the 70s. That's still within living memory [1].

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motion_Picture_Production_Co...


Liberals fought against the Hays Code. And now they condone Twitter and Facebook on the same premise as those who defended the Hays Code: that its private actors voluntarily policing speech that’s harmful to society.

I think this argument proves too much. Clearly there is speech for which you support Twitter and Facebook suppression, and there is speech for which people here do not. We generally oppose any restraints that operate in the overt service of bigotry, and some of us don't oppose private restraints on unhinged conspiracy theories.

I also strongly object to the notion that liberals somehow own this, when clearly both sides of the spectrum instrumentalize speech and its suppression when it suits them.


> "I also strongly object to the notion that liberals somehow own this, when clearly both sides of the spectrum instrumentalize speech and its suppression when it suits them."

Both sides might do it but it's against the tenets of Enlightment liberalism to do so, so of course those claiming to be liberals justifiably get called out for it. If a person eats meat, they don't get to call themselves a vegan; if a person is okay with suppression of speech when it benefits them, they don't get to call themselves liberals.


Respectfully, I think that's a silly argument. "Liberal" isn't a label any modern (20th or 21st century) liberal chose for themselves. By way of example: "enlightenment liberalism" doesn't tell us much about whether property taxes should fund schools or whether teachers should earn merit pay, but the term "liberal" or "conservative" strongly suggests what someone believes about those issues. It's about as persuasive as coming up with some definition of "conservative" that conservatives fail to meet.

In a discussion like this, about American policy, the right thing to do is just to accept the working definition Americans use; otherwise, all we'll do is argue about semantics, and the debate we're having over social media sites suppressing things isn't about semantics. It's substantive.


I mostly hear liberal as a term used by some people to label their political opponents. Though sometimes they strengthen it to libtards.

What does "de facto against the law" even mean?

The Hays code was an industry-imposed form of censorship, there were no actual consequences, legal or otherwise, to ignoring it.


Expanding on what katbyte said, the Hays code was adopted by every major studio in the US to replace state run censors. They did this because of the same battle going on right now in social media: "if we self regulate, then we won't need government regulation placed on us." When an entire industry agrees to follow the code and has enforcement options available and does it with the threat of government action if they don't follow it, the only difference between it and a real law are the name. The consequences to ignoring it were that your funding was dropped, the offending scenes were removed from the film, or you were kicked out and blacklisted from the industry. They were apparently pretty strict about it. You can tell that by how stringently it was followed for decades.

And the big players had a stronger monopoly than seems possible today. Downloading obscure foreign movies isn't quite as easy as Netflix, but in 1960 what wasn't on TV or a few screens was just about unobtainable for almost everyone.

(I guess paying for these downloads runs into a similar situation, mastercard & friends choose to ban things they aren't legally required to.)


They were likely taking issue with the statement “de facto against the law.” De jure is by law and de facto is in fact, and using them how that poster did does not make sense.

The Hays code (and MPAA ratings, etc.) was a preemptive effort to avoid congressionally imposed rules. If they hadn't followed the "de facto law", there would have been a real law.

At the time, movies weren't protected by the First Amendment, so many states and cities had active censorship boards and there was discussion of federal regulation. The Hays code was an attempt to establish nationwide standards that would satisfy the censors.

Might of well be against the law as the entire industry enforced out

> [Free speech is] a fundamentally optimistic vision: Good ideas win.

I disagree with this statement. Free speech has no say on who "wins". Free speech is based on the principle that everyone has a right to be vocal about what they believe, even if you disagree with it. The alternative is giving up the power to others to decide who can speak and for what reason, whether you agree with it or not.

Many people don't want to hear this, but if hypothetically the majority of a population believes in and talks nonsense, then that's what the population wants and that population should live with those consequences. What we have here is not a political problem, but a human problem, and involving politics as a bandaid has shown time and time again that those doing the censoring don't do it for the "common good". Corruption and self-interest is attractive to people in those positions, again, because they are humans and what we have is a human problem, not a political problem.

The difference between the former and latter manifestation of human problems is that in one a small group of imperfect humans make the rules for the rest, whereas in the other no one decides who can say what and people get the consequences they bequeath upon themselves.


> Good ideas win. The better argument will prove persuasive

We don't value free speech because "good ideas win", there's nothing "optimistic" about it, we do know that bad ideas also win, sometimes on the back of/with the help with said free speech (history has showed us that), so tying the idea of free speech with its perceived usefulness/effectiveness is a fallacy, that's not the reason why we should value it. We should value free speech for its sake only.


I agree. You can extend this idea to the idea of freedom of religion - the goal isn't to have some Free Market of religion where the "good ones" win and the bad ones die off, it's just a fundamental human right. Same as speech.

Where have bad ideas won under free speech?

> Looking back at the rise of fascism and the Holocaust in her 1951 book...

She learned the wrong lessons from her study of the rise of fascism. The correct lesson is 'if you botch the economy badly enough, voters will explore every option to try and get some relief'. Including voting in Nazis. The Nazis (with a parallel to Trump) are a sign of some large group feeling profound economic distress and being rather unhappy with politics as usual.

And there is a basic premise in the middle of that article that you quote: that the author is morally pure enough to determine what is good and bad in the marketplace of ideas. That possibility was tested extensively in the 20th century. There isn't anyone who can do that. They tried lots of people, none of them worked out. If we create a method for anointing some truths reliable and some 'twisted' then it is going to become controlled by corrupt people and then do more harm than good. Free speech is by far the most reliable way of identifying bad ideas as bad.


>Free speech is by far the most reliable way of identifying bad ideas as bad.

... but you just spent an entire paragraph arguing that it's impossible for any person to distinguish between good and bad in the marketplace of ideas, and that all attempts inevitably do more harm than good.

How then would it be possible to identify bad ideas given freedom of speech? Surely any attempt to do so would suffer the same bad consequences.


There is a spectrum of reliability. A panel of experts deciding on truth or fakeness of news is on the bad end of the spectrum, everyone figuring out what they think is most likely true is further towards the good end of the spectrum.

But nowhere on the spectrum is good enough to uncritically trust news you read on the internet. That can't be achieved. There is a choice of misinformation - either that approved by an eventally corrupt panel of experts, or those approved by the opinions of People of Average Intelligence, or that approved by people you personally like.


Truth isn't the result of consensus, it's the result of knowledge. "everyone figuring out what they think is most likely true" leads to millions of people being propagandized into believing 5G towers cause coronavirus.

On average, the panel of experts is still going to be more reliable.


Perhaps I'm misinterpreting this, but I wonder if the author is suggesting ("dog whistling") that in our (US) current two party system, that only one side is guilty of it? (I guess my question is actually: I wonder how paragraphs like this are unpacked in the minds of readers, depending on their particular worldviews. Written English is so brutally flawed as a communication medium).

Or maybe this is the nuance but I'm not picking it up:

> It’s alert to the ways in which demagogic leaders or movements can use propaganda, an older term that can be synonymous with disinformation.

Trump (primarily, but certainly not solely).

> A crude authoritarian censors free speech.

"Crude authoritarian" typically unpacks to Trump in most people's minds, but it's mostly "the left" doing the censorship these days.

> A clever one invokes it to play a trick, twisting facts to turn a mob on a subordinated group and, in the end, silence as well as endanger its members.

I interpret this as "the left" again, but I wonder if that's what was intended?

> Looking back at the rise of fascism and the Holocaust in her 1951 book “The Origins of Totalitarianism,” the political philosopher Hannah Arendt focused on the use of propaganda to “make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism.”

This feels like it is pointed at Trump ("the rise of fascism", "the most fantastic statements"), and fair enough, but what many people don't realize is that both sides do this, regularly. What most people don't realize though, is that "if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood" doesn't happen with mainstream falsehoods, because the disproofs aren't published in the mainstream. Why would they be? To find disproofs of many mainstream facts, one must read "alternative media" - but, due to a decade of skilful propaganda, these sources now intuitively evaluate in most people's minds as False by Definition.

Or perhaps the author is saying this only with respect to history, and I'm getting all worked up about nothing.

The biggest issue right now (other than the widespread lack of appreciation for the importance of truly free speech, and how biased and simplistic mainstream speech is) in my opinion is the lack of realization of the degree to which the ability to restrict free speech now lies in the hands of a very small set of elite companies, who are arguably not entirely politically unbiased. The number of people on HN who seem unable to distinguish between the broad general principle of free speech versus the first amendment is very concerning.

EDIT: Wow, the silent majority is fast on the gun today! But alas, the reasons shall forever remain a mystery...


Because you interpreted the neutral words of the article as left and right? It doesn't say what political views the crude authoritarian has.

You injected that in, and then claim it's the author dog whistling. (By the way, this is actually, literally "begging the question" - "It must be a dog whistle because I read it this way even though it doesn't use those words or make that claim at all!")

That's why you're being downvoted. There's a strong reason the author didn't use the words "Trump" or "left".


> You injected that in, and then claim it's the author dog whistling. (By the way, this is actually, literally "begging the question" - "It must be a dog whistle because I read it this way even though it doesn't use those words or make that claim at all!")

An unexpected take on my words.

What I actually did/said:

>> Perhaps I'm misinterpreting this, but I wonder if the author is suggesting ("dog whistling") that in our (US) current two party system, that only one side is guilty of it?

>> Or perhaps the author is saying this only with respect to history, and I'm getting all worked up about nothing.

If you look more closely, you may notice that I am very explicitly pointing out that I am speculating about what the author is getting at, rather than, as you (incorrectly) say I say:

- and then [claim it's (it is)] the author dog whistling

- It [must be] a dog whistle

- ...because [I read it this way] even though it doesn't use those words or make that claim at all (this one is rather ironic)

> There's a strong reason the author didn't use the words "Trump" or "left".

Assertions like this are suggestive of mind reading ability, and also that political rhetoric that does not say things explicitly does not exist.

Something else I said:

>> I guess my question is actually: I wonder how paragraphs like this are unpacked in the minds of readers, depending on their particular worldviews. Written English is so brutally flawed as a communication medium.

This "how...are unpacked in the mind of the readers" is interesting, and I think might explain why near every single comment I make gets downvoted. I've always thought that it was people not liking my political views, but I think what it actually is, is that people aren't able to read text literally. As I was writing my message, I was "reading between the lines", with suspicion, looking for rhetoric - but I was doing this with full conscious intention, and my statements were explicitly speculative - I was wondering if the author was implying (which often does indeed happen) the things I sensed. If a logical, unbiased person (if there is such a person anymore) considers the article and writing techniques* - I could easily excerpt several examples) in it's entirety, my suspicion doesn't seem terribly inappropriate.

Your assessment (and I expect others) on the other hand, is that I have(!) read and said very specific things, that I haven't actually said/done. Not only did you not "respond to the strongest plausible interpretation of what someone says", you grossly misinterpreted it, and then asserted that misinterpretation as if it was a fact (because to you, it is just that).

Of course, there are very stressful times, the world is a complete gongshow, it's hard not to get at each others throats - "these things happen", so I'm not bent out of shape by it. Rather, I'm actually quite relieved, because I now feel quite a bit less confused and frustrated about the world around me, and how people within it behave.

Thanks for your insight.


The article literally starts out by pointing out that the left brainstormed ideas for what to do if Trump contests the results of the election, and that the right reacted to this brainstorming by arguing it's part of a broader pattern.

There is no way to disentangle the left vs right dynamic in the free speech discussion right now, which is probably why this always gets so heated. People are constantly trying to remove this dynamic because flat out stating one side is "for censorship" while the other isn't rubs up against much of the recent history surrounding free speech and it makes people feel really uncomfortable.


Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: