Origins of the War on “Fake News”

Since the 2016 Presidential Election, many pundits and politicians have been trying to explain how Donald Trump became America’s President-Elect. Chief among the faulty explanations for Trump’s ascendency to our nation’s highest office involves the notion of “fake news.” Struggling to accept the reality that Donald Trump politically succeeded, Trump’s detractors believe he accomplished this feat through distortions of reality. Their reasoning plays out as follows.


The idea of Donald Trump becoming the leader of the free world is so antithetical to Trump’s detractors’ world views. Since this outcome is so unexpected, those who voted for Trump must have done so out of the perpetuation of untrue biases and faulty fears. Since we are living in a digital age in which most people receive their daily dose of information electronically, the misinformation that led people to vote for Trump must have been delivered via online platforms. Therefore, these online platforms must stop the dissemination of this “fake news,” so that people like Trump can never politically succeed again. Of course, those who hold this line of reasoning don’t always explain it so bluntly.


The War on Fake News

Speaking in Berlin with Chancellor Merkel, President Obama said the following remark about the dangers of fake news.

“If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not, and particularly in an age of social media when so many people are getting their information in sound bites and off their phones, if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”

Chancellor Merkel agreed with Obama’s sentiments. She has recently gone as far as to support further regulating online platforms to stop the spread of misinformation when it spurs on hatred for marginalized communities.


Additionally, social media companies are now agreeing to find ways to rid their sites of information that they deem to be “accurate information.”


Why the war is wrong

While private organizations can legally censor views they find to be “fake,” they certainly do not have the moral right. No organization, governmental or not, has the moral legitimacy to censor beliefs, regardless of their level of truthfulness. A civil society does not silence views based on a subjective evaluation of truthfulness. It takes a deep distrust of the intellectual capacity of people to believe that the socially powerful must spoon feed the masses true information. Through free speech and the unfettered dissemination of ideas, the truth will reign supreme. If entirely false reports threaten the ability for one’s views to be accepted, then maybe that person’s beliefs are not as sound as he would hope.