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Government Protection From Russian Misinformation Would Be 'Cure' Far Worse Than Disease

Information—and, yes, misinformation—flows more easily and cheaply than ever, making access nearly universal. That's a good thing.

Is American society so fragile that a few "divisive" ads, news stories, commentaries, and even lies—perhaps emanating from Russia—threaten to plunge it into darkness? The establishment's narrative on "Russian election meddling" would have you believe that. On its face, the alarm over this is so ridiculous that I doubt any of the fearmongers really believe their own words. They're attempting to provoke public hysteria for political, geopolitical, and financial gain. There's no more to it than that.

While we the people are not deemed worthy of being shown the evidence that "Russia"—which I take to mean Vladimir Putin—was behind the so-called meddling, even if we grant it just for the sake of argument, what does it amount to? Where's the existential threat to America that justifies the fevered rhetoric and bizarre policy proposals that are the staple of cable news? There is none. All I can say is, if that's the worst the Russians can do, I wouldn't lose any sleep over them.

And even if we ignore the fact that the material in question amounted to drops in the vast ocean of information Americans encounter every day, the establishment's narrative and proposals are outrageous. Let's state the obvious: we live in an increasingly borderless world—and that's a good thing (no matter what the demagogue and ignoramus Donald Trump says). Information—and, yes, misinformation—flows more easily and cheaply than ever, making access nearly universal. It can't be controlled. That's a good thing. It does not justify panic.

To grow up is to cultivate methods of separating the wheat from the chaff in what we see and hear. Early on we learn to discount—if not disbelieve—the claims we hear in television commercials because we understand the role interest plays in describing goods and services. We also learn (one hopes) to treat the claims of politicians, the traditional targets of American ridicule, the same way.

There is no substitute for this sort of skepticism; it's is a sign of maturity. A government effort to protect us from misinformation in the name of preserving "our democratic institutions" would be a contradiction, not to mention a "cure" far worse than the alleged disease. The best protection against one-sided, erroneous, even dishonest assertions is competition, the universal solvent.

Most people understand this but in too narrow a way. In every election season we are deluged with questionable, false, and even crazy claims. This didn't start with the internet. It's as old as politics. In fact, most campaigns today are more civil than in the past, when candidates' alleged extramarital affairs and illegitimate children were fair game.

We have all heard of—or looked at—fringe websites that traffic in political stories even the National Enquirer might reject. But a call to shut down those sites would be rejected by most people—unless the sites were suspected of being Russian.

Why should that make a difference? If a story is true, who cares who tells it? And if it is exaggerated or false, can't the people be trusted to exercise the same skepticism they are expected to exercise when the source is American? If not, why does anyone praise democracy? Isn't it odd for proud small-d democrats to lack that confidence in the people?

Knowing the identity of the source doesn't indicate if a story is true. (The New York Times said—falsely—that Iraq had WMD and that all 17 intelligence agencies verified that Russia hacked the DNC.) Virtually all the material supposedly posted by Russians was authentic. (Much of it was redundant. Which bright Russian schemer thought it worthwhile to tell the people of Ferguson, Missouri, about police and racial issues there?) Were voters better or worse off because that material was made available? Was the American political system imperiled by RT's coverage of third-party candidates or fracking? Fans of democracy who worship the "informed voter" can't seriously say they were worse off.

Whether or not "the Russians" did what they are accused of doing, we need to be skeptical about what we see and hear, and we need to demand evidence rather than take the government's word on faith. That also goes for what we get from the established news outlets, which have a financial interest in marginalizing alternative media.

In other words we need to be adults and quit worrying about Putin's alleged plans to sow chaos in America.

What we don't need is government regulation, a blunt instrument that would produce horrendous consequences, intended and unintended. One suspects that the social-media moguls have belatedly jumped on the anti-Russian bandwagon because some members of Congress have read them the riot act: get on board or else. But who really thinks that scapegoating Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest (!), and YouTube, and burdening them—us!—with regulations would protect Americans from political untruths and exaggerations? A false sense of security is worse than no sense of security at all.

I see more than a little irony in the fact that those who would use the state to shield us from "Russian influence" also urge us to trust the "intelligence community"—in the absence of any evidence—when it (more precisely, a group of handpicked analysts) says Russia is working night and day to destroy America. The threat to peace and liberty is homegrown and resides largely in Washington, D.C.

This piece was originally published by The Libertarian Institute.

Photo Credit: Fine Art Images Heritage Images/Newscom

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  • Longtobefree||

    still waiting for a valid reason why Russia wanted Trump over Hillary.

    Which one had already helped Russia in many ways on the international scene?
    Which one was already bought and paid for?

    Side note: No one believes what they read on the web.

  • Bra Ket||

    That's just it, don't you see? Since there's no apparent motive or collusion, the only remaining alternative is that there must be secret motives and secret collusion! Next we must ask ourselves, why would they keep their conspiracy so secret? Obviously they must be up to something very bad. I'd skip directly to the panic stage at this point.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    Is it your excess salary that causes your excessive use of hyphens?

  • Sevo||

    "still waiting for a valid reason why Russia wanted Trump over Hillary."

    Pretty sure the claim is simply one more red herring for the actual reason the hag lost; they STILL can't believe it, and if it takes a conspiracy between Santa and the Easter Bunny to explain it away, that's what they will invent.
    The left simply cannot believe that a good number of people did not buy the fantasy they'd constructed around that hag.

  • Dan S.||

    Why do [some] Trump supporters like to describe Hillary as a "hag"? Not that it really matters, but she's a reasonably attractive woman. Not dramatically beautiful, but I'd hate to think a female candidate needs to be. She is not dramatically ugly, which is what the word "hag" suggests. So why do Trumpistas feel a need to pretend that she is?

  • I ate your lunch in the fridge||

    Personality counts.

  • Fuck you, Shikha (Nunya)||

    We have very different scales of physical attractiveness, apparently. However, her personality has to detract at least three points on the one to ten scale (my scale is binary. She gets a zero.)

  • Sevo||

    Dan S.|11.5.17 @ 3:07PM|#
    "Why do [some] Trump supporters like to describe Hillary as a "hag"?"

    Dan, you'll have to find a "Trump supporter" to answer that question. I am not a "Trump Supporter"; I am someone who is pleased with quite a bit of what he has done.
    But I call the hag a hag because she is a miserable fucking hag. Does that answer your question?

  • MJBinAL||

    First, let's start with your first premise, that they are all Trump supporters. Hillary Clinton, on a basic level of appearance, is not the ugliest woman in the nation. However, when you see her image, how do you not see all the vile lies she has told, all the people she has led in the destruction of, all the people who have died at her direction, and all the outright graft she has engaged in?

    Based on the entire package that is Hillary Clinton, she IS a hag and an evil witch, right up there with the Baba Yaga (just to get that Russian connection in there).

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Sevo is jealous, that's all. If it looked half as good as a hag, I won't kick it out of bed

  • ChipToBeSquare||

    I have one, even though it makes the left uncomfortable:

    Hillary was absolutely bloodthirsty in wanting a war in Syria. Russia has a vested interest in Syria being stable (the horror of a strongman dictator being in charge instead of a medieval death cult!) and Hillary wanted to absolutely wreck it just like Libya. Trump was open to cooperation with Russia

    ISIS would be surging if Hillary had won because we would have worked to displace Assad

  • LarryA||

    still waiting for a valid reason why Russia wanted Trump over Hillary.

    One of the same reasons I did. To keep her away from the missile launch codes.

  • Aloysious||

    The threat to peace and liberty is homegrown and resides largely in Washington, D.C.

    +1

  • BigT||

    "The threat to peace and liberty is homegrown and resides largely in Washington, D.C. New York .

    The MSM are so socialistic and biased we are flooded with sanctimonious bs passing as 'legitimate' news. Recall the NYT apologizing for its efforts to derail Trump. Hillarywood is the other focus of evil that needs to be confronted in order for sanity to return.

    But don't hold your breath.

  • Don't look at me.||

    It funny that Al Gore inventing the internet is causing the rapid destruction of political power.

  • Jerryskids||

    It's not like we'll ever get to the bottom of the Russian meddling in the election - remember, it's illegal for us common citizens to look at the hacked e-mails so we have to trust Chris Cuomo, a Certified Journalist who has special powers to examine leaked documents from anonymous sources, to tell us what's in the e-mails and what the significance is. (Spoiler alert - there's nothing in the e-mails and they're of no significance whatsoever except for fueling GOP smears against Hillary designed to distract attention from the many proven crimes of everybody in the "President" Trump administration.)

  • Mark22||

    Russia has been meddling in US politics pretty much forever.

    As for Hilary's emails, I don't know whether they prove crimes, but they certainly clearly prove that Hillary is a manipulative, incompetent, dishonest, power obsessed jerk. But then, you can tell that just as easily from her book.

    I'm still less unhappy with "president" Trump than I would be with "president" Hillary Clinton.

  • MJBinAL||

    If the Russians stop meddling in our elections, does that mean we have to stop meddling in theirs?

  • Mark22||

    Free speech for Americans obviously includes the right of Americans to listen to the opinions, or propaganda, of foreigners the US government disapproves of.

    That is, free speech is as much a right to hear speech without restrictions as it is a right to speak without restrictions.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Democracy can't survive free speech!

  • Number 2||

    Good article Sheldon, although you should have further explored the political, geopolitical and financial motives behind the hysteria.

    Meanwhile, the Economist magazine, which used to bill itself as favoring free-markets and being classic liberal in outlook, runs a cover story with the following measured, balanced headline: "SOCIAL MEDIA'S THREAT TO DEMOCRACY," and calls for laws mandating social media companies to adjust their algorithms to minimize clickbait, post warnings of the "dangers" of "misinfomation," disallow "bad" political messages, and identify posts that do not come from "trusted" sources. (I tried to post the link but I was told that the "word" was too long).

  • MJBinAL||

    The Economist has not been free-market or classically liberal in a LONG time. I see it as just the dusty old upper crust British Socialist rag. They keep trying to get me to resubscibe. Pfffft.

  • Mauser||

    Via ZH:

    Rep. Adam Schiff (D, CA), Rep. Trey Gowdy ( R, SC), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D, CA), Sen. Mark Warner (D, VA), Rep. Jackie Speier (D, CA), Sen. Tom Cotton (R , AR ), and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D, TX) tried to intimidate executives from Facebook, Twitter, and Google into blocking all digital dissent to the anti-Trump/Russian line taken by the DNC and military/secrurity complex"

    "Jackie Speier demands to know from Google why Google hasn't "shut down RT on YouTube and
    Trey Gowdy wants false statements blocked," -ZH

    These are the assholes Americans have voted in, they're just a reflection of the electorate - if the citizenry are still vacuously and blindly electing statist aholes given all the information readily available on the internet to self educate themselves in order to make wise choices when they votethen I have no sympathy if their rights are trampled on. When are they going to wake up? The two party system is a joke at this point and both sides are guilty.

  • mtrueman||

    "When are they going to wake up? "

    When the banks stop lending them money?

  • MarkLastname||

    It's like you're actually trying to make non sequiturs.

  • mtrueman||

    I'm like it too.

  • Mickey Rat||

    I find my take on this lines up with Sheldon Richman.

    Is it random chance or should I rethink this?

  • JuanQPublic||

    Government Protection From Russian Misinformation

    In other words, "just turn your brain off".

    The "ads" were crude photoshopping that look like they took about 15 minutes to whip up. If that's the "Russian influence" they've found, what a colossal waste of time, money, and a complete lack of context from these career politicians on Capitol Hill.

  • Sanjuro Tsubaki||

    "Government Protection From Russian Misinformation Would Be 'Cure' Far Worse Than Disease"

    No shit. Give us an NPR for the dreaded Internets!!!!! Keep those womanizing, progressive editors and producers busy delivering lefty propagan--er news 24/7 on cable!!! Yeah. We're really missing out, seeing how the VOA/NPR can't possibly compete with the CBC/BBC/RT for viewers...

  • Sevo||

    Sort of related. An admission that the DNC is simply an organization owned by the highest bidder:

    "Former Democratic Party Chair Donna Brazile told the truth about how Hillary Clinton's operation took over the Democratic National Committee and used it to help her beat Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries.
    And guess what? There was nothing wrong with that. Nothing corrupt or dishonest.
    Like it or not, political parties are private businesses. The DNC was broke, and Clinton bailed it out. And like any investor in a business being saved from bankruptcy, Clinton had the right to do want she wanted to do with the operation. After all, she was paying the bills."
    http://www.sfchronicle.com/bay.....331294.php

    Nothing "dishonest" except the claim that the DNC is supposedly a "democratic" organization.

  • Bra Ket||

    I'd say it also fits the definition of "corrupt" pretty well. Unless the DNC is willing to claim its purpose is to serve whoever gives them money, as opposed to advancing a political platform.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Stopping Russian meddling may have protected Americans from certain truths, on the other hand.

  • inoyu||

    I watched the Senate hearing where google, facebook and twitter promised to work at controlling "vile" speech and misinformation. Very scary stuff. Is it possible to control speech on the web? Ask China. They do a fair job of it. The USA famously and continuously interferes in the internal affairs of nations. The CIA, for example, sponsored the mini-coup which toppled a pro-Russian democratically elected thug, No need for Putin to get all mad about it! The call for controls of speech on the net should be front page news. Thanks for the article.

  • I ate your lunch in the fridge||

    Google, Facebook and Twitter already control speech on their respective platforms. Promising to keep doing it, is just saying "we're happy with our business model".

    The increasingly popular solution is: don't use these companys' products and services. None of them offer anything particularly novel or essential in technology terms.

  • Sevo||

    ^
    Bullshit on a platter.

  • MJBinAL||

    Ah, to the technically literate Sevo, those are referred to as FACTS.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    If not, why does anyone praise democracy? Isn't it odd for proud small-d democrats to lack that confidence in the people?

    I can't blame people who don't believe in democracy for pointing to the election of Donald Trump as an example of how the lumpenproletariat that voted for him shouldn't be allowed to vote. I think there's a case to be made there all the while pointing of the fact that Trump lost the popular vote by almost 4 million people-- low information voters who believed a border wall with Mexico was going to solve their problems aside.

    But don't you think economic libertarians share some of the blame? I mean next to the rampant racism, xenophobia, and mysogeny of the average Trump voter don't you think false economic striving-- based upon the fake news that if you work hard and play by the rules you'll be rich one day-- played at least an equal part in the election of this despicable plutocrat?

  • Sevo||

    "I can't blame people who don't believe in democracy for pointing to the election of Donald Trump as an example of how the lumpenproletariat that voted for him shouldn't be allowed to vote."

    Vile, fucking piece of shit.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    I'm not making that argument, just entertaining it. I still believe the person who gets the most votes should get to serve as President--warts and all. The current system disenfranchises effete city dwellers like you and me. That's bad.

    A sizeable number of libertarians think your right to vote should be based upon the
    grade you got in Econ101. That's ok. I recall I got an "A"

  • mtrueman||

    "I still believe the person who gets the most votes should get to serve as President"

    That's the way it is now. Only you don't get to vote unless you are a member of the Electoral College.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    The popular vote is more democratic (bad!, I know Sheldon) and getttting rid of the EC would have the side benefit of shutting people up who think they're smart because they say "it's a Republic-- not a Democracy!!" Jesus Christ, those people are annoying.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Luckily, the USA being a Constitutional Democratic Republic will make it so pure democracy does not rule the USA anytime soon.

    Funny how socialists like you love democracy when you think you can take over. The Electoral college is a check to ensure that the majority of people in all the states want a certain president not simply a majority of people in NY and Commifornia.

    Its almost been one year since Trump stomped Hillary at the polls.

  • mtrueman||

    "Its almost been one year since Trump stomped Hillary at the polls."

    Don't you mean the Electoral College?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Trump won at the polls and then the electors in each state picked him 304 to 227 for Hillary.

  • mtrueman||

    A little more skepticism, a little less childishness is our advice for you.

  • Sevo||

    "A little more skepticism, a little less childishness is our advice for you."

    A little more fuck off is our advice for you.

  • Sevo||

    mtrueman|11.5.17 @ 3:20PM|#
    "Don't you mean the Electoral College?"

    Don't you mean you're a fucking ignoramus?

  • Sevo||

    "I'm not making that argument, just entertaining it."

    Vile, fucking piece of shit.

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    "A sizeable number of libertarians think your right to vote should be based upon the grade you got in Econ101."

    An even more sizeable number of libertarians think that your vote is a facade. That's not anti-democratic any more than acknowledging that Santa doesn't exist is anti-Christmas. Sure, maybe it's in poor taste to say it to people who aren't old enough to know better, but it doesn't necessarily carry with it some sinister meaning.

    The reason most libertarians don't spend a lot of time thinking about the popular vote vs. the electoral college is because WGAF.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Drumpf sucking sevo should not shit and eat the same thing

  • mtrueman||

    "Whether or not "the Russians" did what they are accused of doing, we need to be skeptical about what we see and hear, and we need to demand evidence rather than take the government's word on faith. That also goes for what we get from the established news outlets, which have a financial interest in marginalizing alternative media.

    In other words we need to be adults and quit worrying about Putin's alleged plans to sow chaos in America."

    Pretty reasonable. So, why aren't we more skeptical? Why are we so childish? Sheldon hectoring us over our faults doesn't seem to be working.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    My plan is to comment our way to skepticism.

  • Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot||

    Hey all thes mass shootings keep occurring in places where presumably people would be concealed carry. What the fuck is going on? Bad aim?

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    I just hope the white trash in Texas learn the error of their ways, the inherent rightness of my ways, and... what... too soon?

    Ow. Quit hitting me. Ow. Ow! Stop it! *runs away *

  • DaveSs||

    Its not entirely unusual for churches to post themselves as off-limits, and in Texas such signs do have the force of law.

    Also given its a very small church likely with familial connections, its not unrealistic to expect that members of the congregation who might otherwise carry other places would not carry there just because they feel its a place where doing so would never ever be necessary.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The media never addresses how many were carrying concealed. There are still plenty of crime that are thwarted by armed citizens defending themselves and the lefties and lefty media never really discuss it.

    CCW still make is more difficult than Constitutional carry which is you can carry any weapon with you concealed or not without a permit.

    You're a gun grabbing slaver, so fuck off.

  • Sevo||

    Robespierre Josef Stalin Pot|11.5.17 @ 3:53PM|#
    "Hey all thes mass shootings keep occurring in places where presumably people would be concealed carry. What the fuck is going on? Bad aim?"

    Hey, you slimy piece of shit:
    "'Hero' neighbor got his rifle, shot at Texas church gunman"
    http://nypost.com/2017/11/05/ hero-neighbor-got-his-rifle- shot-at-texas-church-gunman/

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    They need to compromise. Next time give up the toddler first

  • JuanQPublic||

    I can't blame people who don't believe in democracy for pointing to the election of Donald Trump as an example of how the lumpenproletariat that voted for him shouldn't be allowed to vote.

    Actually, the US Constitution already realizes the harm that the citizenry can cause with a direct democracy, hence the protections to the individual enshrined in the Constitution.

    So the argument "democracy vs no democracy" is a malformed argument in the first place.

  • buybuydandavis||

    Foreign press, and even foreign governments, are a check against the Deep State and their FakeNews cronies.

  • Myth Buster||

    There are a lot of things I take issue with in this article but Iets focus on just one, the premise that
    internet readers are grownups who are fairly good at distinguishing between facts and fake news.
    If this were only true!

    Trump pushed the "Obama is a muslim, not a US citizen lie for years and millions of people believed
    it. Many still do. He also pushed the lie that he's a great businessman (nevermind all the bankruptcies
    and lawsuits), and people bought that as well. The fact that nearly half the voters voted for Trump proves
    that Americans aren't that good at recognizing fake news. And the Russians have a long history of
    propoganda, internally and externally, so it makes perfect sense that they would be quite capable of
    influencing the election by taking advantage of american gullibility.

  • MarkLastname||

    Good thing we have responsible, intelligent, and altruistic bureaucrats and politicians running the country who can make our choices more effectively than we can for ourselves.

  • Sevo||

    Myth Buster|11.5.17 @ 8:21PM|#
    "There are a lot of things I take issue with in this article but Iets focus on just one, the premise that
    internet readers are grownups who are fairly good at distinguishing between facts and fake news.
    If this were only true!"

    Aren't we thrilled a lefty imbecile has shown up to lead us all to the light!
    No, we're not. Fuck off.

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Sevo. the voices in your head are not real. Stick with racism, that you are good at

  • JunkScienceIsJunk||

    Except for the part that Sheldon mentioned, about the Russian ads not really making their way to their intended targets with much gusto. $100k doesn't buy you what it used to.

  • jennyhannb||

    Early on we learn to discount—if not disbelieve—the claims we hear in television commercials because we understand the role interest plays in describing goods and services.
    Visit https://happywheelsnow.com

  • Doug Heffernan||

    Agreed, no government rules. But, at least be aware of how it is done (warning: most here will consider the following reporting to be socialist propaganda): http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b091zhtk

  • Sevo is my bitch||

    Government Protection From Russian Misinformation Would Be 'Cure' Far Worse Than Disease

    Yes, better let the government stick with collusion. That they seem to be pretty efficient at

  • TxJack 112||

    Russian ads did not sway the election because most people are smart enough to know when they read BS. Democrats claim this is true because they refuse to accept the majority of the US does not share their oppressive government driven view for the future of this country. They want to control speech which is why they insist "fake ads and disinformation" is a problem. Russia has been attempting to influence US elections since the 50s. Democrats give them too much credit because they do not want to admit they nominated a self serving, sociopath for President and rigged the system to ensure she was nominated. Today they are crowing about winning in Virginia and NJ even though both are blue states. One is becoming more dominated by the Federal employees living in the northern part of the state and the other is deep, deep blue. Electing a Democrat in NJ is not a huge success since Christie has done everything possible to piss off everyone he can on both sides of the aisle. Democrats controlled the state before he was elected and they will control it again now that he is leaving. Virginia has a Democratic Governor now and the election of another is not that surprising. Clinton won Virginia for the same reason, the democrat dominated northern part of the state where the majority of people live, period.

  • KarlRKaiser||

    Anybody remember when the solution to bad speech was supposed to be better speech?

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