Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), not one to recognize irony, proposed Wednesday that those who spread “disinformation” online, including tech companies that refuse to police their platform for incorrect and misleading materials, be held criminally accountable for their actions.
The Massachusetts Senator, who has fallen to a distant third place in most polls, announced her blockbuster plan in a tweet.
“Disinformation and online foreign interference erode our democracy, and Donald Trump has invited both,” Warren said, ostensibly referring to reports that Russia engaged in a misinformation campaign online ahead of the 2016 presidential elections. “Anyone who seeks to challenge and defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election must be fully prepared to take this on – and I’ve got a plan to do it.”
“I will push for new laws that impose tough civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating this kind of information, which has the explicit purpose of undermining the basic right to vote,” she added in a press release titled “fighting digital disinformation.”
The plan, like most of Warren’s plans, is expansive, and involves forcing social media platforms like Facebook to “label” and approve content before its allowed to spread on social media — essentially giving them the editorial power of prior restraint on news organizations — and “create clear consequences” for any account that interferes with voting. She would also force Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other organziations to share their algorithm and allow users to opt-out of being targeted.
Most importantly, though, Warren would “push to create civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating false information about when and how to vote in U.S. elections,” and put a national security expert in charge of sniffing out and punishing those who spread such information, essentially creating a national “bureau of truth.”
And don’t think being anonymous will save you if President Elizabeth Warren is dismayed at what you say online. She would “establish rules around information and data sharing to ensure that platforms can share with each other and with the government while respecting individuals’ privacy,” essentially giving the government the power to unmask accounts believed to be creating trouble, and even force platforms and service providers to turn over pertinent information when asked.
The entire plan would involve a public-private partnership, in fact. “A coordinated push to address disinformation will be far more effective than isolated efforts. When companies share information — to the extent allowed under privacy laws — they can better identify cross-platform disinformation campaigns and alert law enforcement officials of threats. This coordination will help identify and remove fraudulent accounts, deter the spread of disinformation, and rein in illegal activity.”
Strangely enough, though, it doesn’t seem Warren’s campaign would escape scrutiny under her own rules. Although she pledges that her campaign will not “knowingly use or spread false or manipulated information, including false or manipulated news reports or doctored images, audio, and videos on social media,” Warren herself has effectively contributed to the spread of disinformation online on several memorable occasions.
Warren, for example, has long insisted that she has Native American ancestry when, in fact, she is likely less than 1/64 Native American — and that 1/64 could come from anywhere on the North or South American continent. She relies on family lore to substantiate her claim, but has never been able to produce evidence any stronger than a lackluster DNA test result to support her claim — a claim she may have used to help institutions fill their minority candidate quotas.
She has also, on occasion, bent the truth in service of her policy platform. Warren claims to have been fired from a teaching job because she was visibly pregnant (she declined to obtain a certification necessary to return to the job full time after her “emergency certification expired”) and claims to have sent her children exclusively to public schools (she didn’t).
Even on the subject of disinformation, Warren massages reality. Her press release implies that disinformation campaigns definitely affected the outcome of the 2016 election, but even FiveThirtyEight says that’s not quantifiable.