So-called “fake news” has been in the news recently – whether in the “real news” or more supposed “fake news” sites – I’ll leave to you to decide. On November 19, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted his views on the subject. I commend Mr. Zuckerberg’s thoughtful post as well worth a read.
Right now, in the post-election environment, passions on behalf of some are running high, too high in some quarters. And when passions run high, oftentimes there are pleas for action, even when the solutions offered might be worse than the supposed ills.
Read Mr. Zuckerberg’s entire post, but here is a brief excerpt that makes a lot of sense:
“The problems here are complex, both technically and philosophically. We believe in giving people a voice, which means erring on the side of letting people share what they want whenever possible. We need to be careful not to discourage sharing of opinions or to mistakenly restrict accurate content. We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties.”
Mr. Zuckerberg goes on to say that “the percentage of misinformation is relatively small.” On this point, it’s worth taking a look at A. Barton Hinkle’s November 23 post at Reason, “The Fake News Epidemic of Fake News.” Mr. Hinkle contends there are at least two problems with the recent Buzzfeed story upon which so much of the buzz surrounding “fake news” rests: “First, the epidemic of fake news is overstated. Second, fake news is far from new.”
In any event, in his post, Mr. Zuckerberg commendably outlines some measures Facebook itself is considering to address the fake news issue. Several look promising, at least in theory. You can decide for yourself.
But the main point is that to the extent “fake news” is a serious problem at all, it should be left to the platforms themselves – and interested private third parties – to address it, not the government.
As a matter of sound policy, the government should stay out of the business of evaluating the truthfulness of news, except, for example, in rare instances involving public health and safety. And as a matter of law, the First Amendment’s free speech clause demands no less.