There are times where President Trump says or does things that run contrary to the conventional wild man narrative, and there are times when he validates all the worst things his critics say about him. His recent tweet suggesting (threatening?) the Press with rescission of their credentials falls into the latter category, even if you agree with him regarding “Fake News.” It’s an itty-bitty step from Trump’s suggestion to the actual licensing of the Press that Matt Drudge warns against.

I don’t care what your ideology is. The last thing you should want is the government deciding which news outlets are legitimate and which are “fake.” The only people who want that much power given to government are totalitarians (yeah, I’m looking at you, socialists, communists, fascists, and democratic socialists), who are either totally dumbass ignorant of totalitarianism’s horrid history or are the very people the Founding Fathers wanted us to remain armed against. The Press’s number one role in a free society is as the Fourth Estate: the sunlight-disinfectant bulwark against government excess and predation, and giving the government authority over its watchdog is beyond stupid.

That doesn’t change the fact that there are many media outlets today, large and small, that put forth what Trump has dubbed “fake news.” This includes information that is genuine but carefully curated to suggest desired opinions, information that’s been Dowdified to alter its plain meaning, information of dubious provenance, and stuff that’s outright false. Many sites will blend all these and more, and some will provide some true content in order to sucker us into believing the lies. Most sources today have some sort of political slant, and even those with the greatest commitment to honesty and fidelity still pick and choose what they prioritize.

The Internet has made it spectacularly easy to share information and stories, thus removing entry barriers and altering cost structures in a way that has shifted the dynamics of both mainstream and “alternative” news. Combined with humans’ natural tendency towards confirmation bias, and websites that don’t give a flying rat’s petootie about the truth can and do generate stories and memes that go viral and catch millions of eyes.

Indeed, we are deluged with “fake news” every day, whether it be political or the peddling of lies or woo for profit. Our desire to have our opinions and biases confirmed makes us susceptible to those who deliberately and deceitfully feed into them. But, thinking that the government should be the remedy for this is sheer madness, and I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative, a Trump supporter or a Trump despiser.

But, wait, you might think – what real threat is there to the press here? Doesn’t the First Amendment stand in the way of government regulation?

One would think so, but there are oodles of Americans who think that there should be limits on our First Amendment-protected freedom of speech, limits that go beyond matters of libel, incitement, and intimidation that are codified in law, limits that cover “hate” speech and words that are deemed hurtful (who gets to deem them?). There are also oodles of Americans who like the substantial restrictions and licensing mandates imposed in some parts of the country on our Second Amendment-protected right to bear arms, and most of us know that many municipalities require permits to exercise our First Amendment-protected right to assemble. In other words, there’s plenty of precedent, and we are one bad Supreme Court decision away from a major Big Brother-style infringement of the free press.

What are we to do, then, about “fake news,” if government action is a bad idea? As always: exercise some individual responsibility. Pay attention to where stuff that crosses your eyes comes from. It takes little time to start recognizing the usual suspects. Once you do, don’t click on or share their junk, even if, this time, a story rings true, feels right, or is verified by other sources. If a source publishes 90% junk, don’t validate it for the 10% truth it offers to sucker people in. If you must share a story, share other sources. And, when considering sources that are more reliable but biased, recognize and admit to the bias instead of pretending they are Spock-like in their logic and dispassion.

It’s only when we the consumers reduce the incentives that make fake news so persistent that it’ll stop being so ubiquitous. FAR better that you and I fix it than stand aside as the government infringes on a vital liberty.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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