Fake news has been around for hundreds of years.
In 1690, British officials forced the first newspaper in North America to shut down after it fabricated information. [Ref]
Then there are opinions and perspectives.
Opinions can vary. Perspectives vary.
There is a very famous piece in the annals of psychology called, “They Saw a Game: A Case Study.”
It focuses on “selective perception,” something familiar to all you women out there when you refer to your husband’s “selective hearing.”
Princeton and Dartmouth played a football game, and it was a rough game with penalties and injuries.
“The Princeton quarterback, an All-American, in this, his last game for his college, had had to leave the game in the second quarter with a broken nose and a mild concussion. In the third quarter the Dartmouth quarterback’s leg was broken when he was tackled in the backfield.” [Ref]
The study questionnaire asked groups from both schools the same questions and it showed, that for the most part, they “seemed” to be watching two different games. Essentially, Dartmouth blamed Princeton and Princeton blamed Dartmouth, but if you take a close look, now and then, someone in the test went against a bias toward their side.
Let’s note: bias is very difficult to avoid.
But beyond opinions, perspectives, and biases, there are just plain lies.
The old saw, “You can have your own opinions, but you can’t have your own facts,” fits in here. And it must always be noted that facts have contexts and without contexts some facts can be seen as lies.
Now that the country has a new administration (as of 20 January, 2021) we will probably not hear the words “Fake News” issued from the White House over the next four years. If we do, everyone will be surprised. Hardly a day went by in the previous four years in which we didn’t hear those words, and we all know why. In an interview with Leslie Stahl, he told that his purpose in calling everything fake news was to demean and discredit the media so that no one would believe negative stories about him.
Thomas Jefferson believed in a free press and ironically, it was the free press that constantly went after him, bashing him on nearly every issue, but Thomas Jefferson never uttered the words “fake news” and hopefully we won’t see the current administration use that term either.
But America Has a Horrible, and Vicious, and Oftentimes Deadly Problem
January 6th, 2021 saw the first rebellion in the US in which insurrectionists broke into the Capitol, injured some sixty Capitol police officers, killing one. Their intention was to kidnap and kill senators, representatives, and the vice president.
Now this is important: their intentions were not to destroy our democracy; they were there to protect our democracy.
They believed that democracy had been undermined by a rigged election. They believed that the candidate they supported had actually won the election, but that the rigging gave his opponent more votes. They were there to “take back democracy.”
They were all the victims of lies. Lies from the President. Lies from senators. Lies from representatives. Lies from social media. Lies from the news media.
And we all know that lies repeated enough become the “truth.” Right?
Their truth was that democracy had been hacked, the vote had been rigged, and their candidate had won the election. Thus they rebelled to “take back democracy.”
One legal question that arises: Is “I was brainwashed” a defense?
One classic, highly publicized case is the United States v. Hearst. Hearst being Patricia Hearst. She’d been kidnapped, brainwashed (it was a textbook case of brainwashing), committed crimes, and was finally caught.
She got convicted. The jury didn’t buy the “brain washing” defense. However, President Jimmy Carter did commute her sentence after serving two years, and later she was pardoned.
There are huge differences between the Patty Hearst brainwashing and the hundreds of people who broke into the Capitol. Probably the greatest difference is that the insurrectionists were willing victims of brainwashing. They wanted to believe what they believed because they hated everyone who did not believe as they believed. (Our article How the Hell Did Trump Ever Get Elected? covers much of the psychology that held them all together.)
Interestingly enough, the Heritage Foundation has a great article on the history of hate speech. Why interesting? Because the Heritage Foundation, according to the Bipartisan Report has an extreme right bias. They state their mission is to promote conservative public policies, and advance the principle of free enterprise, limited government individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. [Ref]
However, you can guess that the article ends by promoting free speech over any restrictions on speech, and equates laws restricting speech as Orwellian “thoughtcrimes.”
The reason hate speech has come under attack: Hate speech is deadly. It’s dangerous, and it is deadly.
But the Supreme Court has told us that freedom of speech trumps hate speech and that hate speech is not a legal term, and is protected under the first amendment.
This is how the term hate crimes came into being. The courts can go after someone who commits a hate crime, using their hate speech as evidence. The irony here is that we cannot prevent hate crimes by going after hate speech because it is protected under the Constitution.
And it is this author’s opinion (shared by many) that lies too can be deadly because we have seen exactly what they can produce as of January 6th, 2021.
The FCC has been controlling speech for decades, and every now and then a case goes to the Supreme Court to determine what can and cannot be controlled.
The following is a list of controlled speech by the FCC
Then there are all sorts of laws depending upon whether you’re an employer or a broadcaster, educator, lawyer, military leader, prison warden, or a regulator of immigration.
The point here is that speech can be regulated, and because we all witnessed how lies and conspiracy theories turned into insurrection, it is time to do something.
We must outlaw the transmission of lies and conspiracy theories.
The internet has brought us the fastest methods of spreading lies and conspiracy theories, and if we regulate the internet like we regulate broadcasting and the public airways, we can stop this.
We should know by now that once people have accepted a lie, it’s damn near impossible to get them to part with it.
People often ask what can we do about these people who’ve been brainwashed into believing the lies and conspiracies they’ve been spoon fed.
The simple answer is nothing.
Nothing will ever change their minds. We know this because of the “boomerang effect.” When a person who has been brainwashed into believing a “thing,” showing them the truth makes them believe the original “thing” even stronger.
Nothing can be done about those lost souls.
The only positive actions we can take is to stop the spread of lies so that more people will not be brainwashed.
In this country, we already have a foundation of fact-checking organizations and sites.
We need a Truth Czar. A Truth Czar to run the Office of Verification (fact checking). There are nonpartisan organizations that do it now and they can get government grants to keep doing what they do.
Then we create laws to be enforced by the FCC. The internet becomes part of the public airways, as well as all networks (radio, TV, internet), and we need to add in politicians. Politicians, according to theory, are owned by the public and therefore they too cannot be allowed to promulgate lies.
There must be fines and jail time for skirting these laws.
If caught, the individual or organization must publish an apology and make a correction. If they don’t, then they pay fines, if they continue, indictments.
And courts can determine from input by the Office of Verification if something disseminated is an outright lie, or just weasel words, innuendo, etc. Thus politicians can continue to promote “bullshit” as long as it’s not outright lies they’re trumpeting.
And we really need the broadcasting of the debates over these issues in Congress because America needs to know which politicians will be supporting the spread of lies.
Personally I, for one, will be sharply interested in the arguments about how free speech must trump curtailing outright lies that can lead to insurrection.
This law, of course, will not go unchallenged, and will end up before the Supreme Court; a Supreme Court that has rigged by Mitch’s manipulation. Thus it is also time to re-balance the courts. We can do this by adding three more seats or by impeaching every justice who lied during confirmation hearings. And yes, there’s a problem with impeaching anyone because of partisanship in the Senate, but that too can be handled by indicting every senator who incited the rebellion or aided and abetted Trump’s crimes.
I know of no legal scholar who thinks a sitting senator cannot be perp-walked.
For months, in my own extremely unconventional manner, I’ve been in favor of sweeping changes, starting with thorough investigations into Trump’s crimes, the arrest of everyone enabling those crimes, and an executive order declaring the past four years null and void, erasing every judicial appointment. If the Supreme court wants to take that up, they can do it 3 to 3.
The thing is, we are teetering on a point of existential holocaust and we are saddled with a party that is terrible at politics.
There are no moderate, market, or conservative solutions to stop our decent into collapse. It was all those decisions, rulings, and policies that have brought us to this point, and as someone once said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
We cannot fix the human beings who have been broken by the system. We cannot reverse the brain washing they’ve gleefully clung to.
We can stop further brainwashing. We can allow nonpartisan fact checkers to determine the lies detrimental to our survival, because let’s face it, we are facing both an extinction event and the collapse of our society.
And the time to act was yesterday.
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