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Is it Time to Punish Misinformation?


Misinformation is the cornerstone of right wing strategy. It’s the stuff of conspiracy theorists and the far right media. It’s endangering our democracy and threatening our very way of life. Perhaps it’s time to punish individuals and organizations for spreading misinformation? It has led to violence. It has resulted in deaths.


The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech. In framing this amendment, the Founding Fathers depended on the reasoning of 18th century French philosopher Voltaire, who is said to have stated “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” While the origins of this quote are questionable, the rationale behind it resulted in one of our most sacred liberties.


But what can be done when these very rights are used to sabotage the very institutions they were supposed to uphold? It’s illegal to falsely shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, but apparently it’s perfectly fine to claim a duly elected president is illegitimate, or not even American, if you disagree with the results.


The act of spreading misinformation needs to be treated as a criminal act. While no doubt it will have those on the right crying “Censorship!”, (These same crybabies are all for banning books and limiting the scope of history to only that which makes them comfortable), their spread of misinformation is a threat to democracy.


Republicans were apoplectic when the poorly named Disinformation Governance Board was formed. They called it a threat to free speech and a violation of the First Amendment. Never mind that the previous administration spent four years attempting to destroy another part of the amendment by limiting freedom of the press.


Controlling information is the hallmark of totalitarian regimes. Hitler used it when he convinced Germany to back his facist war in Europe. Vladimir Putin is using it to justify his illegal invasion of Ukraine. And Republicans are using it to substantiate their own efforts to destroy our way of life.


These actions need to be punished if we are to preserve democracy. Alleged news organizations need to be held accountable for being outlets that push lies and misinformation. And politicians need to stop spreading baseless accusations and only use facts to defend their right to hold office.


Elections

Even before he “won” the 2016 election, Donald Trump was making the false claim of a “rigged system”. He tried to cite this as the reason that, although he won the Electoral College, he lost the popular vote. He is still using this lie to rationalize his loss in 2020, and to fire up his increasingly shrinking base.


If Trump and his supporters were forced, under penalty of law, to only use factual information in their campaigns, they would likely implode. They’d be forced to admit there were no widespread voter irregularities in 2020, and that they relied on misinformation to push a false agenda.


Unfortunately, this will never happen. The flow of misinformation remains uncontrolled as lies, innuendo and conspiracy theories undermine our democratic process.


One such example is the pretzel logic employed by Trump in a recent Wyoming rally, where he is attempting to unseat Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY). His supported candidate tried to claim the January 6th insurrection was a hoax and the commission investigating the events of that day, and the accompanying run-up, were nothing more than a partisan hit job.


The Pandemic

If Donald Trump had used the pandemic as a campaign tool, it may have been a winning strategy. Despite a horrendous initial response, Operation Warp Speed was one of his administration’s few successes. Claiming credit for the vaccines that saved thousands of lives could have been the silver bullet that resulted in a second term.


Instead, he focused on a misinformation campaign, calling the virus a hoax and even mocking those who wore masks. Instead of saving lives, Trump further divided the nation by touting anti-maskers as those protecting their personal freedoms even as hundreds of thousands were dying. He repeatedly set dates when the virus would “magically disappear”, while stoking racial tensions by stirring up anti-Asian hatred.


Biden made similar mistakes in declaring victory over COVID, only to be undone by the Delta and Omicron variants. Unlike Trump, Biden owned up to his failings and took measures to address them. The increased fatalities that resulted from the surges caused by the variants were no doubt exacerbated by those who bought into Trump’s anti-masking misinformation.


Apparently Trump’s misinformation campaign was a little too successful because when he tried to change gears and rightfully take credit for the availability of vaccines, long after the election was over, the assembled crowd, in deeply red Alabama, rained down with a chorus of boos.


Pro Life (Abortion vs Guns)

Republicans, particularly those of the religious right, are rabidly anti-abortion. As a result, they will spread misinformation about centers that offer women’s healthcare. They incorrectly portray these sites, such as Planned Parenthood, as “abortion factories” that have nothing to do with any other services other than to perform abortions. As a result, women seeking assistance require volunteer escorts to avoid the inevitable harassment they will receive for even taking advantage of these clinics.


Sadly, these very same people who claim to be “pro life” are also those who oppose any social programs that might assist those whom in the very near future, may not have access to abortion sites. The programs they oppose are seen as creeping Socialism, and therefore must be avoided at all costs.


In glaring opposition to their “pro life” stance, a majority of Republicans are also fervent supporters of their Second Amendment rights. They hug their guns more tightly then they hug their children. They claim gun ownership is a “God given right” and America is a Christian nation.


Despite a massacre, where 19 children and two teachers were murdered, tone deaf Republicans held their annual NRA convention just a few hours away. This while the acrid smell of gunpowder still lingered in the air.


While many Republicans decided against attending, Donald Trump and Lyin Flyin Ted Cruz (R-TX) kept their promises and were the key speakers where, despite the horrors being experienced by many parents, the attendees lamented that their lifestyle was under attack.


The level of misinformation to arrive at this conclusion takes a tremendous amount of mental contortionism.


Mental Health

Whenever there’s a mass casualty shooting, Republicans are sure to deflect with claiming it’s a mental health issue, and not a gun issue. But when it comes to mental health, the thing they like to spread the most misinformation on is the mental state of President Biden. They use his stuttering, a condition he’s had since childhood, to claim he’s mentally deficient or suffering from dementia.


Republicans are demanding President Biden undergo a mental evaluation. These very same Republicans looked the other way as their leader couldn’t drink a glass of water unless he used both hands, had difficulty walking down a ramp, repeatedly mangled words and mistook a a test meant to evaluate dementia as an intelligence test, all the while calling himself “like really smart” and “a stable genius”.


But it’s easier to spread misinformation about “Sleepy Joe” than acknowledge the problems in your own back yard.


And while we’re at it, why aren't they requesting a mental evaluation of QAnon kook Majorie Taylor Greene(R-GA)? She compared mask mandates to the Holocaust, to be enforced by the “gazpacho” police. She insinuated that wildfires in California were caused by “Jewish space lasers”. And in her latest bonkers claim, she is accusing Bill Gates of forcing people to eat “fake meat” that’s been grown in, get this, “peach tree dishes”.


With all these wild claims, and many more, you would think Republicans would be clamoring for her to seek help. But what do they do instead? They nominate her for re-election!


Yet, Republicans still seek to smear President Biden with misinformation about his mental state. Maybe it’s time they looked after their own instead.


Cancel Culture vs. Wokeness

Any time a Republican is called out for their behavior, or ridiculed for spreading misinformation, they claim to be victims of left wing Cancel Culture. Yet, when they enact policies aimed at restricting basic freedoms, they say they are eliminating “wokeness”. They fail to see the hypocrisy in their actions.


The school shootings in Texas were Republicans’ latest opportunity to claim Cancel Culture when they accused Liberals of taking away their Second Amendment rights. They tried to change the narrative of an unspeakable tragedy by repeating the NRA battle cry that “Wokeness” is coming for your guns.


Yet, when they want to punish Disney for opposing the homophobic “Don’t Say Gay” law, or to restrict educators by banning certain instruction, they claim to be eliminating “woke indoctrination”. They are even pushing vile accusations that educators who are bucking these restrictions are only doing so because they are “grooming” their students to become victims of sexual abuse.


The level of misinformation aimed at demonizing Liberals has reached a new level of stupidity.


The Media

The biggest purveyors of misinformation manure belong to those outlets who call them “the media”. The right has pretty much monopolized the misinformation machine. Whether it’s Pizzagate or trying to create outrage against the LBGTQ community by claiming the Texas school shooter was a trans woman, there is no bar low enough that the right wing media won’t slither under to smear the opposition.


Even if one avenue of this behemoth of babble is shut down, there are so many other outlets, it would barely create a ripple in the amount of misinformation being spread. In addition to cable news outlets, there are blog sites, podcasts, social media, the dark web and multiple organizations and publications aimed at pushing lies.


The misinformation pushed by these venues typically originates on the dark web where anonymity is key. It was this anonymity that allowed the organizers to coordinate the January 6th insurrection.


Ideas are spun out of thin air by far right sites like 4chan, 8chan and QAnon. They are then dispersed in chat rooms like Gab, then pushed by the likes of The Daily Stormer, Alex Jones’ InfoWars and Steve Bannon’s War Room. By then they are full blown conspiracy theories that take on a life of their own, despite having little or no basis in fact.


By the time they reach what the right considers the mainstream, Fox, OAN and NewsMax, they have already been accepted as fact, despite having zero evidence to support their ideas, no matter how outlandish. By the time Tucker Carlson is launching into his nightly rant, he is merely repeating the talking points that have been percolating in far right circles for months. Having them repeated only serves to give them validity.


Despite this, there are millions of Americans who truly believe the 2020 election was stolen, schools teach Critical Race Theory, Area 51 houses aliens and there is something sinister on Hunter Biden’s laptop. While a majority of these believers live lives of quiet desperation in their mommy’s base, there are this who take them so seriously that they jump into action to prevent whatever wrongs they think are happening from continuing.


These actions sometimes have deadly consequences. The January 6th insurrection, Buffalo shooting and K Mart massacre all have their origins in ideas launched by right wing media .


For this reason, there needs to be accountability. When people are urged to do harm to others by ideas spread by right wing media, those who push these lies need to be bear responsibility along with the actual perpetrators. Only then can we truly reign in the dangerous, and sometimes deadly, spread of misinformation.

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댓글 4개


Mark M. Bello
Mark M. Bello
2022년 6월 06일

This behavior goes well beyond misbehavior. For 1st Amendment purposes, we are talking "fire in a crowded theatre" type speech. Mass shootings, an insurrection, an activist Supreme Court, all the result of the type of "speech" you refer to in your excellent article. These legislators are also guilty of constitutional hypocrisy and selective enforcement. Not only are same people who are "pro-life" on abortion "pro-choice" on mass death-causing weapons, but they are pro business and anti-citizen in tort law enforcement in violation of the 7th Amendment. Why does the gun industry enjoy immunity from civil damages? Why are damages award limited in amounts? The 4th, 6th, and 14th mean very little to them—in fact, many of them would probably be…

좋아요

Exceptionally well written. In your pinion what would the punishment look like?

좋아요
답글 상대:

Thumbs up! I agree, although I wonder if any of these people could become educated but maybe they would want to avoid the punishment.

좋아요
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