Wednesday, March 29, 2023

#88 / What About A Ban Of "Fake News," Online?


That is Glenn Greenwald, pictured. Greenwald is an American journalist who is now based in Brazil. Here is a brief excerpt from what Wikipedia has to say about Greenwald
In 2014, [Greenwald] co-founded The Intercept, of which he was an editor until he resigned in October 2020. Greenwald subsequently started self-publishing on Substack.

In 1996, Greenwald founded a law firm concentrating on First Amendment litigation. He began blogging on national security issues in October 2005, while he was becoming increasingly concerned with what he viewed to be attacks on civil liberties by the George W. Bush Administration in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. He became a vocal critic of the Iraq War and has maintained a critical position of American foreign policy.

Greenwald started contributing to Salon in 2007, and to The Guardian in 2012. In June 2013, while at The Guardian, he began publishing a series of reports detailing previously unknown information about American and British global surveillance programs based on classified documents provided by Edward Snowden. His work contributed to The Guardian's 2014 Pulitzer Prize win, and he won the 2013 George Polk Award along with three other reporters, including Laura Poitras.  
Since I teach a course at the University of California, Santa Cruz, entitled, "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom," and since the impetus for me to teach about these topics was the United States government's outrageous, wholesale invasion of our privacy, brought to light by Edward Snowden, with the significant assistance of both Greenwald and Poitras, I have followed Greenwald's work pretty closely. I still recommend that students watch Greenwald's YouTube video on privacy, linked here. If you haven't seen it, I recommend that you watch it, too. 
Most recently, Greenwald has been highly critical of both the Biden Administration and the so-called "mainstream media," specifically including The New York Times. His criticism, sometimes, has seemed to me to have taken on a rather "personal," and "antagonistic," and perhaps even "pro-Trump" and "right-wing" character, which has led me to be cautious about thinking that everything that Greenwald says is always, and necessarily, "correct." Still, a recent Substack article by Greenwald does seem to be on point. While the article is focused on a proposed new law in Brazil, it is Greenwald's contention that the United States government would like to try out the same approach here - and will do so, too, if the government can get away with it. 

By clicking this link, you can read what Greenwald has to say about what the government of Brazil is supposedly proposing, by way of a new law to stop "Fake News." The former President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, is located on the left, in the picture below, but he is on the "right" in terms of his politics. The recently-elected President of Brazil, Lula da Silva, is pictured on the right, but his politics are on the "left." My political sympathies are definitely with da Silva. However, the proposed law that Greenwald describes does not sound good to me - and Greenwald claims that da Silva is promoting it.  


If the proposed law is as Greenwald represents, I think Greenwald is right to denounce it. Giving the government the right to decide what is "fake" news, and what is not, allied with the ability to punish those who publish what the government decides is "fake," is the exact opposite of what we have believed, since the enactment of the Bill of Rights, is the right of everyone to say (and print, and publish) whatever they think - and particularly with respect to politics. 
It would be a shame if Brazil headed in the direction in which Greenwald claims they are headed. There are lots of false statements circulating, everywhere, all the time, but giving the government the right to ban "fake news," online, and to imprison or penalize those who put it there, is not the right way to deal with this phenomenon. Our former president, Donald Trump, routinely denounced what he claimed was "fake news," which was certainly his prerogative. Giving him to right to punish those who published what he claimed was "fake," however, would have eliminated many accurate and important news stories.

Greenwald has definitely come to believe that the United States government, and other supposedly "democratic" governments, are pursuing anti-democratic efforts to stifle public discussion and public criticism of the government. He sees Brazil as a test case, with European nations (and the United States) poised to follow, if they can get away with it:

Brazil's law would be anything but advisory ... It would empower law enforcement officials to take action against citizens deemed to be publishing statements that the government classifies as "false," and to solicit courts to impose punishment on those who do so.

The Brazilian left is almost entirely united with the country's largest corporate media outlets in supporting this censorship regime (sound familiar?). The leading advocates of this new censorship law include pro-government lawyers, famous pro-Lula YouTube influencers, and even journalists(!). They are now being invited to and feted in "fake news" and "disinformation" conferences in glamorous European capitals sponsored by UN agencies, because the EU is eager to obtain such censorship powers for itself, and sees Brazil as the first test case for whether the public will tolerate such an aggressive acquisition of dissent-suppression authorities by the state. (Recall that the EU itself, at the start of the war in Ukraine, escalated online censorship to an all-new level by making it illegal for any online platform to host Russian-state media outlets; Rumble's refusal to obey France's command to remove RT from its platform forced Rumble to cease broadcasting in France)....

Europe, and large sectors of the U.S. establishment, see Brazil as the perfect laboratory to test how far censorship powers can go. With many Brazilians believing they just suffered their own 9/11 or January 6, all power centers know that the perfect time to seize new authoritarian powers and abridge core liberties is when the population is in a state of fear and terror, and thus willing to sacrifice liberties in exchange for illusory promises of security. And recall that polling data in the U.S. shows that very large majorities of Democrats (and a disturbingly robust minority of GOP voters) would support a law similar to the one pending in Brazil to empower the state to restrict internet freedom in the name of stopping "misinformation." As Pew found in 2021, 65% of Democrats "say the government should take steps to restrict false information, even if it means limiting freedom of information." Perhaps the First Amendment would be a barrier to implementation of such a law in the U.S., but there is ample public support, especially on the liberal-left, for state censorship of the internet.
Consider this blog posting an advance advisory. Let's make sure that what Greenwald is warning us about - eliminating the "freedom of speech" that the First Amendment protects - does not get a purchase here!
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