Now Italy Wants To Make 'Fake News' Illegal
from the but-can-you-define-it? dept
Over and over again, we’ve talked about the ridiculousness of the moral panic around so-called “fake news” — a broad and somewhat meaningless term now used to describe just about anything from actual made-up stories, to news articles that have a small factual error, to those with a “spin” that someone disagrees with. And, as we warned, the panic of “fake news” is leading to widespread calls for censorship. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how German officials were supporting a plan to criminalize “fake news” and now Italy wants to join in on the fun. In an interview with the country’s antitrust chief, Giovanni Pitruzzella, he argued that it’s really time to crack down on the internet, with government wielding the censorship power over whatever it calls “fake news.”
?Post-truth in politics is one of the drivers of populism and it is one of the threats to our democracies,? Pitruzzella said. ?We have reached a fork in the road: we have to choose whether to leave the internet like it is, the wild west, or whether it needs rules that appreciate the way communication has changed. I think we need to set those rules and this is the role of the public sector.?
Pitruzzella argued tackling fake news should not be left up to social media companies, but instead be tackled by the state through independent authorities with the power to remove fake news and impose fines, coordinated by Brussels, similar to the way the EU regulates competition.
Any time you hear of a plan for the government to be able to remove news stories or impose fines for reporting, you should get very, very worried. That is a recipe for censorship. Yes, blatantly made-up stories are a problem — but not one that should be dealt with by expanding the tools of censorship in a way that will be abused. We need to teach better media literacy and get more people to understand how to read critically and to do research. Putting tools to censor and fine journalists in the hands of government will inevitably lead to that power being abused. Someone will report on something that makes a politician look bad, and suddenly it will be declared “fake news.” We’re seeing that happen already — even without the threat of fines and censorship.
This focus on “fake news” is becoming increasingly dangerous and many of the people screaming loudest about it — including lots of journalists — don’t seem to realize where it will end. You can worry about truly made-up stories all you want, but if you think the solution to it is to increase the powers to censor and stifle and chill expression, you’re not going to be happy with how it boomerangs back on legitimate expression.