Photo Credit: pexels
Imagine this scenario for a moment: the scourge of “fake news” becomes so dangerous on social media that the U.S. government decides to step in and regulate free speech online with new legislation. And let’s go one step further – anyone found to be in violation of this new social media law would now be subject to thousands of dollars in fines, and potentially even a few years in prison. Think it couldn’t happen in America? Well, think again, because at least two countries – Singapore and Nigeria – have either passed or are on the brink of passing this exact type of “anti-social media bill.”
Do we really want government to protect us from social media?
The really scary part of this new legislation is how it is being passed under the guise of cleaning up the Internet and making social media a safer place for everyone. And, as might be expected, the new legislation has a fairly innocuous-sounding name that makes it sound like a natural, rational response to all the vile muck on the Internet. In fact, many people might not even realize what their elected government officials have done. In Singapore, this legislation is known as the Protection From Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, while in Nigeria, a similar version of this legislation has almost the same identical name.
Anyone who has ever studied the history of totalitarian or authoritarian nation-states will immediately realize that this how freedoms and rights are taken away by the government – it is always done so under the guise of protecting the citizens, or solving a problem. If you’re still skeptical about this type of anti-social media bill ever passing in America, just think back to the 9/11 terror attacks. Those terror attacks were used to pass the Patriot Act and to unleash wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. And people gladly went along with these developments because government was offering a solution and protection.
That’s why it’s so concerning to see so many politicians and bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. lining up to punish the big Silicon Valley tech giants and to pass tough new legislation. Every day, we hear about the perils of Russian bots, fake news, cyber bullies and online scammers. So it’s only natural that some politicians think that a way around all those problems is by passing new legislation.
The slippery slope leading to the end of free speech
In many ways, we’re already on the slippery slope to an anti-social media bill in America and we don’t even realize it yet. The big social media platforms have used “conspiracy theories” and “fake news” as good reasons to clean up their platforms, shadow ban people they don’t like, and de-platform people they find odious. Content creators are already bracing for new rules coming to YouTube in 2020 that could see many YouTube accounts closed down forever.
Here is perhaps the subtle nuance in all this – the people in power control who is removed and who is banned. In some cases, they will choose to remove people who represent a risk and threat to their own power or their own political ideology – all under the guise of protecting “average Americans.” This is exactly what is happening in Nigeria, where powerful officials are looking for a way to keep everyday citizens from exposing all their misdeeds and fraud on social media.
As a result, the risk of any new legislation promising to crack down on fake news is that any social media platform will begin to resemble more and more the thoughts, opinions and biases of those in power and not the people across all of America. That’s dangerous, folks, and perhaps even a little Orwellian.
So the next time your elected official tells you that fake news is a “cancer” or that the Interwebs are filled with conspiracy theories and need to be cleaned up, just be careful that they are not abusing their political power to pass a “gag rule” for certain types of protected free speech. When politicians are clamping down on free speech that poses a clear risk to their own power, influence and control, that’s a problem.