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Warning: The President Wants to Censor 'Fake News'! The President of France

Politicians cast attacks on them as attacks on democracy. How self-serving.

Emmanuel MacronBlondet Eliot/ABACA/NewscomPresident Donald Trump is commanding a lot of attention for his lawyers' attempts to scare Michael Wolff and Wolff's publisher out of releasing Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

This attempt to censor the press definitely deserves our attention and condemnation. But if their threats against Wolff stand out, it's not because there's something new about politically powerful people trying to suppress reports that make them look bad. The only norm Trump is breaking here is the one that says not to be so openly self-serving about it. If Trump had the sense to act as though his calls for censorship were about "preserving democracy," he'd be in much better shape.

That's exactly what's happening in France. French President Emmanuel Macron, like Trump, is not happy about "fake news." Like Trump, he wants to stop it. But unlike Trump (so far), he's trying to use his power as president to actually censor the internet.

Macron claims that he merely wants to protect the people from "fake news" during elections. The Guardian reports:

In his new year's speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, Macron said he would shortly present the new law in order to fight the spread of fake news, which he said threatened liberal democracies.

New legislation for websites would include more transparency about sponsored content. Under the new law, websites would have to say who is financing them and the amount of money for sponsored content would be capped.

For fake news published during election seasons, an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website, Macron said. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," he added.

Is it really liberal democracies that Macron wants to protect? The Guardian notes that Macron faced fake news stories during his presidential campaign that accused him of hiding funds in offshore accounts. Like many Hillary Clinton supporters in America, he claims that Russia-linked outlets spread propaganda to harm him.

All this suggests that what Macron really wants to censor is "fake news" that threatens his political fortunes. Fake claims during political campaigns are hardly new. They're less a "threat" to liberal democracies than they are a natural, albeit frustrating, side effect of having campaigns in the first place.

Meanwhile, there's not much evidence that "fake news" has had much of an impact on election outcomes. A new report from a trio of political scientists found that in the run-up to the presidential election in America, one out of four people who participated in their study had visited a site with fake news stories. But only a much smaller number, 10 percent, were regular consumers of fake news—mostly older, more conservative voters who weren't likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place.

While the report was not able to determine whether people actually believe the fake news the read, what did seem to be clear is that people's exposure to fake news seemed to track their desire to consume news about the candidate they already supported. The fake news was a complement to the rest of their news consumption. The fake news told them what they already wanted to hear, which probably tracks the experiences of anybody who has had a Facebook friend post a link to a report that was obviously false.

There's something particularly reprehensible about trying to connect the preservation of democracy with the censorship of speech that makes a candidate look bad, regardless of whether that speech is true or false. Given the absence of evidence that fake news stories have been tipping elections, Macron's actions have the same whiff of self-preservation as Trump's.

Macron is hardly alone. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has threatened to use her position as a lawmaker to force additional regulations of political speech on social media. By pure coincidence, Feinstein is running for re-election next year.

Giving the government the power to censor fake political stories means gives the government the power to determine what is and is not "fake." And as we've seen, politicians left and right have used the term to dismiss anything critical of them. Giving them the power to wipe this criticism off the internet will not preserve democracy. It will preserve and entrench political power.

Photo Credit: Blondet Eliot/ABACA/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Le Canard News Network, Macron is coming for you! When you're ready, he'll let you borrow his white flag.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Why don't the French order two eggs for breakfast?

    Because one egg is un oeuf.

  • Quixote||

    Macron should indeed crack down on "satire" and every other form of fakery. Are we supposed to allow "parodists" to go around mimicking politicians with fake "confessions"? For that matter, are we supposed to allow them to go around mimicking distinguished academic department chairmen? Surely no one here would argue such poppycock, regardless of unsavory items such as this one:

    https://forward.com/opinion/385050/

    Such "editorials" are the worst form of fake news, and should be rapidly banned in this country and everywhere else in the world. Bravo, Macron! Hopefully politicians here in l'Amerique will follow your example soon.

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Furthermore, we need to ban humor, since it often victimizes the vulnerable. Plus men like humor, and deserve to be punished.

    The earnest, woke life is no laughing matter!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Why did the French plant trees along the Champs Elysees?

    So the Germans could march in the shade.

  • Sevo||

    Yeah, but he's a lefty, so he can't be a big poopy-head.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    Hate speech isn't free speech and fake news is hate speech.

  • Ben of Houston||

    And who determines what's fake news? The supreme court has said political speech is essentially immune from libel laws because no one can be trusted with the power to make that determination.

    Do you really want a Trump appointee making this determination? What about the next Clinton? Questioning whether he had "sexual relations with that woman" or not is now illegal.

    Do you really want that?

  • Earth Skeptic||

    Oh, Sparky, you whiny loser. When did you stop beating your wife?

    (Do I get points for both hate speech and fake news?)

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I keep reading from my local talking heads that we're in a post-truth world and government might have a role in media and the news in general.

    So I have to admit I'm confused as to who's going to be the most upset about this, and who's going to fight it. Is this just going to be another partisan issue where as long as "The Right People" are fighting The Wrong Fake News, it's all just peachy?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    mostly older, more conservative voters who weren't likely to vote for Hillary Clinton in the first place.

    Sure, but they might have voted for Ted Cruz, whom Hillary would have handily beaten. The shit is chess, Shackeltonford, not checkers!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Yo momma is so fat her memory foam forgot.

  • Curt||

    "Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has threatened to use her position as a lawmaker to force additional regulations of political speech on social media. By pure coincidence, Feinstein is running for re-election next year."

    Sarcasm noted... but, I would argue that it really is a matter of coincidence. Is there anything that suggests she wouldn't be on-board with this if it wasn't time for her to run? Anything suggesting she's at serious risk of not winning and needs the extra help?

    This is the kind of thing that's right up her alley. I have no doubt she'd support it even if she was named Senator-for-life.

  • Mark22||

    I agree, this is a principled stand on her part, to the degree that being a totalitarian a-hole is a principled stand to begin with.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    This is the kind of thing that's right up her alley.

    *unzips*

    Go on...

  • Curt||

    I just threw up in my mouth a little bit

  • Mark22||

    Macron said. "If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must be strong and have clear rules," he added.

    Macron: "We have to kill liberal democracy in order to save it!"

  • ||

    A nice one.

  • Wolf 359||

    I'm a fan of the italics in the title.
    The President Wants to Censor 'Fake News'! The President of Your MOM

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Yo momma's so old her breast milk is actually powder.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Yo momma's so ugly she made an onion cry.

  • Wolf 359||

    Yo momma's so fat, the back of neck looks like a bag of hot dog buns.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    City government could allocate space at Seattle Center for The Center for Public Media, charging substantially reduced rent for nonprofit media organizations who pledge to provide independent, objective, fact-based journalism.

    No sense of irony whatsoever.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Yo momma is so ugly, her portraits hang themselves.

  • Eric Bana||

    ...and then get put on youtube by Logan Paul.

  • $park¥ leftist poser||

    What's the difference between Jesus and a painting?

    It only takes one nail to put up a painting.

  • Scarecrow Repair & Chippering||

    Jesus walks into a hotel, slaps some nails onto the counter, and says "Can you put me up for the night?"

  • Unlabelable MJGreen||

    We really need to do something about Crusty's hate speech.

  • Eric Bana||

    Let's put politics aside and come together to pass legislation against fake news.

  • NoVaNick||

    Madames et monsieurs - Eeet eez fake news that I get big bonerr when I zee thee leetle boyz

  • NoVaNick||

    So he must want to shut down Charlie Hebdo -since pictures of Mohammed are always fake news.

  • JoeB||

    First Dalmia and now this clown? Does Shackford not believe in libel or slander laws? TDS is rampant at Reason.

  • Hank Phillips||

    I'm betting Scott meant to say "believe he fake news they read..." I have that same kind of keyboard.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The pattern I see is Russia happy to be rid of communism and their commies just as happy to move to America and be renamed liberals by Herbert Hoover Republicans. Germany pined for nationalsocialism, and when the commies assimilated the other Germany the reunification planted seeds of a 4th Reich. France never recovered from being Vichy France any more than Spain or Italy gave up religious fascism. Only in Russia, rural America and Brexit England is there enough mercantilism left in the old White Terror to feel importuned by remnants of comuno-fascist ideologies hedging in their turf. The Saracen can't take over and move econazi Europe back into the non-nuclear 11th Century soon enough to suit me.

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