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Combat disinformation with better norms, not more laws – Orange County Register

SACRAMENTO — In a typically unhinged social media post last month, Donald Trump expressed a desire to jail former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and members of the congressional select committee investigating the riot, insurrection, peaceful protest or the FBI false flag operation of January 6. (choose your story). It’s one of several posts in which the former president and 2024 Republican Party candidate touted tactics usually reserved for third-world strongmen.

Most recently, the judge in the case involving Trump’s secret payments to adult actress Stormy Daniels imposed a warrant of silence on him “after he repeatedly targeted the judge’s daughter in social media posts,” according to USAToday. Not long ago, Trump said he would tell Russia to do “whatever it wants” to NATO member countries that aren’t paying their bills. And of course, he continues to falsely claim that the 2020 election was stolen.

This is all widely reported, but I expect many readers will have already pulled out their computers so they can write angry letters to the editor. Sorry, I’ve already heard all the excuses, “what about” and alternative explanations. America’s two major tribes no longer agree on much, and there is little hope they will find common ground on Trump. But they should agree on one thing: He has demolished most of the norms surrounding the presidency.

Channeling Carly Simon’s song (“You’re so vain, I bet you think this song’s about you”), I would note that this column is not really about this narcissistic man who has captivated the public’s attention for more than eight years. years. This is about misinformation and what the nation should do about it. In their frustration with Trump’s truth-bending and norm-breaking behavior, many Trump critics are willing to promote policies that would also seem inappropriate in a democracy.

In a New York Times article last month, Jim Rutenberg and Steven Lee Myers note that after the unpleasant events of January 6, “a groundswell formed in Washington to stem the onslaught of lies that had fueled the “assault on the peaceful transfer of power.” Attributing Trump’s success to the spread of disinformation, they lament that “the Biden administration has largely abandoned measures that could be interpreted as stifling political discourse.” They expressed concern about the political opposition over a broader government role in protecting elections from disinformation.

This seems so reasonable at first glance. Trump and his MAGA movement have indeed spread misinformation (the first is false and the second is malicious) to keep the former president in power – and now to help him get back into the Oval Office. But the First Amendment is clear (“Congress shall make no law…”). There is absolutely no way government officials can reduce either of these two types of bad information without crushing the free speech protections built into our nation’s founding.

The basic rule in America is that people can say or write whatever they want. Defamation law provides some form of remedy in civil courts, but alleged victims face a fairly significant hurdle. This is as it should be. Let’s take an example of why even the best-intentioned governments’ anti-disinformation efforts would descend into absurdity and abuse.

Many progressives believe that human-caused climate change is as true as the existence of gravity. Some conservatives believe this is not true and offer alternative explanations and data. If the government tried to suppress misinformation about climate change, it would inevitably (depending on who controlled the government) end up censoring ideas contrary to the prevailing view that human-caused global warming is an undisputed fact. Even if it did, it would chill the discourse – and stifle legitimate studies that questioned the more questionable aspects of the theory.

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