Fake News

Just What America Needs: A Government Truth Squad

A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to publish or share a "false or deceptive statement" meant to influence voters.

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If there's one thing this country needs, it's a Ministry of Truth. Just ask California lawmakers.

A lot of fake news has been floating around in the ether during the past few months, as anyone who has read the mainstream press can attest. Some of the stuff is obviously fictional, such as the story reporting that the pope endorsed Donald Trump for president. That was plainly absurd; everybody knows Francis was a Jim Gilmore man all the way. But sometimes it's a little harder to tell. When the satirical news magazine The Onion reports "Military Aides Try To Cheer Up Kim Jong-Un After Failed Missile Launch By Putting On Surprise Execution," you have to wonder. Maybe it's worth Googling, just to be sure.

Moreover, a certain segment of the public is satire-impaired. This has led to the creation of sites such as literallyunbelievable.org and listicles such as "25 People Who Don't Realize The Onion Isn't A Real News Source," which post social-media reactions from people like Facebook user "T." When The Onion reported, "New Sony Nose Buds Allow Users to Blast Different Smells Into Nostrils," T responded: "Dumbest [expletive] I ever read. Even if they worked who wants to go around with what looks like ear buds in your nose, u would look like a complete idiot." Yes, u would.

Not every false thing on the internet is satire, however, and some false stories can do real harm. Example: Pizzagate, in which a family-run Washington pizzeria was accused of running a child-sex ring connected to Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman, John Podesta. The story became a nightmare for the owners of the pizzaria, who suffered harassment and death threats for months.

Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has since apologized for his role in spreading the story, but that didn't keep protesters from showing up in D.C. a day later to demand that someone investigate the story anyhow. The Truth Is Out There.

Episodes such as that are rare, but false political claims on the internet are ubiquitous, and Serious People consider this a Very Bad Thing. Now a lawmaker in California has determined to do something about it. Assembly member Ed Chau has introduced legislation that—you'd better sit down for this part—would render it illegal to knowingly "make, publish or circulate on an Internet Web site" a "false or deceptive statement" meant to influence the vote on any issue or candidate.

Let the government punish people for false statements? What a great idea! That has worked out just splendidly for much of human history, has it not?

Note that the measure would outlaw not only the making of false statements, but also the publishing and circulation of them—which presumably means that if you share a false post on Facebook or retweet a link to a false story, then California's speech police could come after you, too. (It's not even clear that you would have to know the story is false: the bill's text makes it illegal "to knowingly … make, publish or circulate" a false story, not "to circulate a story while knowing it to be false.")

Note also that the statement doesn't even have to be false, which can be hard enough to prove. (E.g., "Congressman Jones is an extremist.") You can get crosswise with the law for statements that are merely "deceptive." Hmmm. Is it deceptive to write, "Jones' proposal does little to help the poor"? Do we need a government definition of "little" to settle the matter? Probably. And probably one for "help" and "poor," too.

To be fair, having the government dictate what qualifies as true in politics makes a certain amount of sense from a Platonic standpoint. Doctors are trained to heal—but as Socrates points out in the Republic, the result of such training is that nobody can poison someone as skillfully as a doctor can. By a similar process of reasoning, perhaps Chau decided the job of ferreting out the political truth should be filled by a bunch of congenital liars.

You can imagine how all this might work in practice. Every time some poor sap said something an elected official didn't like, the official would sic the Wahrheitspolizei of the Minitrue on him until campaign season was over or the sun went supernova, whichever came second.

People who come up with bright ideas like this always seem to think they'll be the ones enforcing the law. They seem incapable of imagining a world in which their political enemies win elections and gain control over the powers they create for themselves. Then they are horrified to discover what they unleashed.

Maybe someday we will read the headline, "Politician Declines to Expand Government Power, Lest New Authority Fall Into the Wrong Hands." But then who would ever believe it?

This column originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

NEXT: Restrictions on how businesses label credit card/cash price differences are speech restrictions

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  1. “People who come up with bright ideas like this always seem to think they’ll be the ones enforcing the law. They seem incapable of imagining a world in which their political enemies win elections and gain control over the powers they create for themselves.”

    In fairness, he’s a democrat in California.

    1. In fairness, he’s a democrat in California.

      Them Cali dems must be running out of things to do now that they have a supermajority and never have to worry about any serious competition. They have solved all of the state’s problems now and can just relax and be smug.

      1. Come now, there is nothing wrong with this proposed law at all. In New York, for example, it’s already illegal to write under the name of another merely with the intent to “deceive” one’s audience, and no rational, civilized person would dispute the legitimacy of that law. Surely no one here would dare to defend the “First Amendment dissent” of a single, isolated, so-called judge in our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case? To make matters worse, the perpetrator in the case has now filed a tawdry reply to the charges that itself raises the question whether any form of deceit should ever be allowed to go unpunished. See:

        https://tinyurl.com/criminal-satire-reply

      2. Well, enough progress since the last Republican ran the place into the ground. There is a surplus for now, and we are still paying for the welfare of you hicks.

        You’re welcome.

    2. To be honest, most of those who fall for satirical news stories on the internet, are right wingers who jump before they investigate!

  2. California really is a shit state.

    1. It’s a fine state with a shitty government and stupid cities.

      1. Same with IL. Chicago is an awesome place to live…..minus the government and police and no freedoms like open and carry

    2. Only when you visit. Stay away, your welfare check is in the mail

    3. Only when you visit. Stay away, your welfare check is in the mail

  3. Basic litmus test for proposed Legislation;

    Does the criminal conspiracy called the California Democrat Party endorse it? Then it’s likely to be vile.

  4. A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to publish or share a “false or deceptive statement” meant to influence voters make political ads.

    Fixed it for him.

    Christ, what an asshole.

    1. “A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to make political ads he doesn’t agree with.

  5. Despite a lack of evidence or prosecution, charges of pedophilia doggedly follow California Assembly member Ed Chau in his new quest to squash “fake News”… You mean Ed would object to such clearly written satire?

    1. There is a video on YouTube of him raping, murdering, and eating babies while chanting prayers to Satan.

  6. So what’s the punishment for “if you like your health care plan…?” Or is that different?

    1. Nobody really likes their health care plan, so it’s not a false statement.

      1. The only thing I really don’t like about my plan is that I don’t have the option to just take the cash instead.

  7. People who come up with bright ideas like this always seem to think they’ll be the ones enforcing the law.

    Judging by all of the people proposing this idea, “fake news” seems to mean “anything that doesn’t push a leftist agenda”. They’re already feeling powerless and one of the results is flinging poo such as this out there.

  8. A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to publish or share a “false or deceptive statement” meant to influence voters.

    Doesn’t that describe almost all campaign literature and advertisements?

    One of the more troubling aspects of things like this is that a good number of people seem to have decided that free speech shouldn’t be protected in the political arena. Which is exactly where it needs to be most absolute. See also Citizens United.

  9. People who come up with bright ideas like this always seem to think they’ll be the ones enforcing the law. They seem incapable of imagining a world in which their political enemies win elections and gain control over the powers they create for themselves. Then they are horrified to discover what they unleashed.

    To be fair, this assclown is from CA, which is a de-facto one party state, so he really doesn’t have to worry about those EVUL RETHUGLIKKKANS ever gaining power there.

    To me the bigger issue is how the hell this twat expects to enforce a law like this if someone from another state “knowingly make[s], publish[es] or circulate[s] on an Internet Web site a false or deceptive statement?” Does this pigfucker even understand how the internet works?

  10. Apparently the fucking comments are still fucked up. Eat a dick, reason!

    1. Testing.

      1. That’s my first comment to get through in two weeks.

      2. Testing.

  11. the good thing about this law is all politicians would be the first to be charged under it.

    1. I live in squeaky-clean Wheaton, IL where our school board hired private propagandists to lie to the voters about an upcoming $200,000,000 tax hike. Lying to the voters is how America works. Do the Californians think that government lies will somehow be immune to the law?

      1. Politicians always exempt themselves; refer to the affordable care act.

      2. Reminds me of the scene in “Ghostbuster II”, where a city bureaucrat is surly and rude to Bill Murray. Murray gets a hurt look on his face and says sadly, “But I’m a voter! Aren’t you supposed to lie to me and kiss my butt? “

    2. I hope you do not think this eould be ussd against an incumbant who is in the AG’s political machine?

  12. A. Barton Hinkle is hereby arrested in the name of the people for attempting to influence voters.
    If California has not seceded in 90 days, making him no longer a US citizen, the trial and guilty verdict will be scheduled.

  13. A. Barton Hinkle is hereby arrested in the name of the people for attempting to influence voters.
    If California has not seceded in 90 days, making him no longer a US citizen, the trial and guilty verdict will be scheduled.

    1. Come to think of it, if you are going to write a law this shitty in the first place, you might as well make the restrictions retroactive. So, that you can really clean house.

      And think of all the extra unionized prison guards that will need to be hired. That’s a two-fer.

  14. Remember how the left pushed the “fake news” narrative after the election and now The Donald just throws it back in the left’s face? One of the things I dislike most about the Donald is he engages in debate the same way the left does. One of the things I find most amusing about The Donald, is he engages in debate the same way the left does.

    1. The thing I dislike most about Donald Trump is that he says things that conservatives want to hear but he’s actually very leftist in his policy, even the policy he actually gives a shit about. But what I see out of him, in general, is not especially caring about the job of the presidency as he does the prestige of the office.

      That’s hardly exclusive to him since Hillary seemed to think she was entitled to the office and had even less to say about policy than he did. It’s still upsetting that a desire for public service loses out to self-aggrandizing ambition. I long for the days of Thomas Jefferson, who thought it would look unseemly to actually declare his interest in the office since it’s supposed to be a position of public service. That left James Madison to actually run the campaign for him.

      1. Because, it is leftist to call for a Muslim ban, undo climate change regulations, “drill baby drill,” undo LGBT protections, want to repeal Obamacare, …

        reason.com libertarians are Republicans. Just another example

  15. Do we need a government definition of “little” to settle the matter?

    The existence of the sorites paradox is false news.

  16. Seriously, can we just boot California out of the union? Throw in New York too while we’re at it….

    1. As Barry Goldwater said about the Eastern Seaboard in 1964: Saw it off and let it drift out to sea.

    2. Then who will fund your welfare?

  17. SNL, Stewart, Colbert….

    How many of the above are/were the main source of news for Democrats?

  18. Whoo hoo, I got a comment to go through…

    Next time I might put some effort into it. Disqus, please?

    1. “Disqus, please?”
      Yes! Note to Reason: there’s this thing, it’s called specialization, as good heartless capitalists, you should approve of it. Outsource to Disqus! I think I’ll make this my new hobby horse, like Hihn and that Cato survey and Hank Philips and abortion; every post of mine will include an unabashed advertisement for Disqus.

      1. Disqus requires the user to sign in with FB or something equally vile. No thanks.

        1. Wrong.

          1. I’ve always logged in with my DISCUS account. No account linking!

  19. “Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has since apologized for his role in spreading the story,”

    You know, when even Alex “They’re Turning The Frogs Gay” Jones walks back on support of a conspiracy theory, it really has no legs whatsoever to stand on.

  20. I think Mr. Chau should be the leader of this truth squad and pass judgement on whether or not a politician is telling the truth.

    I am sure that Mr. Chau knows the truth when he sees it.

  21. Can we just redefine treason as promoting any scheme that would deprive someone of their constitutional rights? (I’d say “abridges the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” but we know how well THAT worked out; thanks Miller, Clifford, Strong, Hunt and Davis, may your names be cursed forever.) Then we can just toss this Chau character in Gitmo and be done with it.

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  23. Speaking of censorship, http://huff.to/2nFl1D6

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