Former FEC Head Proposes ‘Government Regulation’ Of ‘Fake News’

In a paper titled: "Fool Me Once: The Case for Government Regulation of ‘Fake News,’" former Federal Election Commission (FEC) head, Ann M. Ravel, as well as co-authors Abby K. Wood and Irina Dykhne, argue that news on social media should be closely monitored, and that users who share "an item that has been flagged as untrue" should be reminded that such actions could have legal consequences.

The paper focuses on several aspects regarding the regulation of "fake news" on social media, but the most disturbing are the recommendations concerning consumers:

Educate social media users. Social media users can unintentionally spread disinformation when they interact with it in their newsfeeds. Depending on their security settings, their entire online social network can see items that they interact with (by “liking” or commenting), even if they are expressing their opposition to the content. Social media users should not interact with disinformation in their feeds at all (aside from flagging it for review by third party fact checkers). Government should require platforms to regularly remind social media users about not interacting with disinformation.

Similarly, after a social media user clicks “share” on a disputed item (if the platforms do not remove them and only label them as disputed), government can require that the user be reminded of the definition of libel against a public figure. Libel of public figures requires “actual malice”, defined as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. Sharing an item that has been flagged as untrue might trigger liability under libel laws.

Nudge social media users to not view disputed content. Lawmakers should require platforms to provide an opt-in (or, more weakly, opt-out) system for viewing disputed content and periodically remind users of their options. We think the courts should uphold this as a constitutional regulation of political speech, but we acknowledge that it is a closer question than the more straightforward disclosure regulations above.

The final line in the paper reads: "Voting is a democratic act, and it is the government that must insure the integrity of our electoral process and work to prevent the erosion of voter competence from disinformation."

The implications of Ravel’s paper are so troubling that even George Washington University Law Professor Jonathan Turley — not a friend to conservatives — has voiced his concern, noting that Ravel "conspicuously fails to concretely define" the term "fake news."

To combat “fake news,” Ravel and her co-authors would undermine the use of the Internet as a forum for free speech. The regulation would include the targeting of people who share stories deemed fake or disinformation by government regulators. The irony is that such figures are decrying Russian interference with our system and responding by curtailing free speech — something Vladimir Putin would certainly applaud. ...

Without clearly defining “disinformation,” Ravel would give bureaucrats the power to label postings as false and harass those who share such information. Of course, this would also involve a massive databanks of collections ads and discussions by the government.

Ravel’s proposal, which suggests that the American electorate must be manipulated in order to make good decisions, exhibits the Brave New World-style attitude the progressive movement is developing. Unsurprisingly, Ravel doesn’t offer more details, but it’s safe to assume that what constitutes "fake news" would be determined by some government panel obscured by a thick curtain of bureaucratic smoke.

Turley sees the danger in Ravel’s ideas, noting that while he’s "been writing about the threat to free speech coming increasingly from the left," his concerns have been routinely "dismissed" out of an alleged need to target "fake news," and "disinformation."

He concludes:

What Ravel and her co-authors are suggesting is a need to label certain views as “false” while giving not-so-subtle threats of legal action for those who share such information. Once the non-threatening language of “nudges” and “transparency” are stripped away, the proposal’s true meaning is laid bare as a potentially radical change in government regulation over free speech and association.

Ravel’s paper is a frightening view into a society in which free speech is whittled away to the point of non-existence; a society in which citizens are no longer willing to counter whatever views are considered mainstream out of fear of litigation.


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