The New York Times – The First Amendment in the age of disinformation. “…The United States is in the middle of a catastrophic public-health crisis caused by the spread of the coronavirus. But it is also in the midst of an information crisis caused by the spread of viral disinformation, defined as falsehoods aimed at achieving a political goal. (“Misinformation” refers more generally to falsehoods.) Seven months into the pandemic in America, with Trump leading the way, coronavirus skeptics continue to mock masks and incorrectly equate the virus with the flu. Throughout the campaign season, Trump and other Republicans have promoted a false narrative of widespread voter fraud, which Attorney General William Barr, as the country’s top law-enforcement official, furthered in a September interview on CNN when he said someone in Texas was indicted for filling out 1,700 ballots for other people, which never happened. As fires tore through California and the Pacific Northwest last month, the president cast doubt on the science behind global warming, and people in Oregon defied evacuation orders because of false rumors that antifa, a loose term for left-wing activists, was setting the blazes and looting empty homes. The conspiracy theories, the lies, the distortions, the overwhelming amount of information, the anger encoded in it — these all serve to create chaos and confusion and make people, even nonpartisans, exhausted, skeptical and cynical about politics. The spewing of falsehoods isn’t meant to win any battle of ideas. Its goal is to prevent the actual battle from being fought, by causing us to simply give up. And the problem isn’t just the internet. A working paper from the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard released early this month found that effective disinformation campaigns are often an “elite-driven, mass-media led process” in which “social media played only a secondary and supportive role.” Trump’s election put him in the position to operate directly through Fox News and other conservative media outlets, like Rush Limbaugh’s talk-radio show, which have come to function “in effect as a party press,” the Harvard researchers found…”
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