HomeFreedom of SpeechStand Up And Fight Back

Stand Up And Fight Back

Author

Date

Category

The Global War on Thought Crime

David James

Laws to ban disinformation and misinformation are being introduced across the West, with the partial exception being the US, which has the First Amendment so the techniques to censor have had to be more clandestine.

In Europe, the UK, and Australia, where free speech is not as overtly protected, governments have legislated directly. The EU Commission is now applying the ‘Digital Services Act’ (DSA), a thinly disguised censorship law.

In Australia the government is seeking to provide the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with “new powers to hold digital platforms to account and improve efforts to combat harmful misinformation and disinformation.”

One effective response to these oppressive laws may come from a surprising source: literary criticism. The words being used, which are prefixes added to the word “information,” are a sly misdirection. Information, whether in a book, article or post is a passive artefact. It cannot do anything, so it cannot break a law. The Nazis burned books, but they didn’t arrest them and put them in jail. So when legislators seek to ban “disinformation,” they cannot mean the information itself. Rather, they are targeting the creation of meaning.

The authorities use variants of the word “information” to create the impression that what is at issue is objective truth but that is not the focus. Do these laws, for example, apply to the forecasts of economists or financial analysts, who routinely make predictions that are wrong? Of course not. Yet economic or financial forecasts, if believed, could be quite harmful to people.

The laws are instead designed to attack the intent of the writers to create meanings that are not congruent with the governments’ official position. ‘Disinformation’ is defined in dictionaries as information that is intended to mislead and to cause harm. ‘Misinformation’ has no such intent and is just an error, but even then that means determining what is in the author’s mind. ‘Mal-information’ is considered to be something that is true, but that there is an intention to cause harm.

Determining a writer’s intent is extremely problematic because we cannot get into another person’s mind; we can only speculate on the basis of their behaviour. That is largely why in literary criticism there is a notion called the Intentional Fallacy, which says that the meaning of a text cannot be limited to the intention of the author, nor is it possible to know definitively what that intention is from the work. The meanings derived from Shakespeare’s works, for example, are so multifarious that many of them cannot possibly have been in the Bard’s mind when he wrote the plays 400 years ago.

How do we know, for example, that there is no irony, double meaning, pretence or other artifice in a social media post or article? My former supervisor, a world expert on irony, used to walk around the university campus wearing a T-shirt saying: “How do you know I am being ironic?” The point was that you can never know what is actually in a person’s mind, which is why intent is so difficult to prove in a court of law.

That is the first problem. The second one is that, if the creation of meaning is the target of the proposed law – to proscribe meanings considered unacceptable by the authorities – how do we know what meaning the recipients will get? A literary theory, broadly under the umbrella term ‘deconstructionism,’ claims that there are as many meanings from a text as there are readers and that “the author is dead.”

While this is an exaggeration, it is indisputable that different readers get different meanings from the same texts. Some people reading this article, for example, might be persuaded while others might consider it evidence of a sinister agenda. As a career journalist I have always been shocked at the variability of reader’s responses to even the most simple of articles. Glance at the comments on social media posts and you will see an extreme array of views, ranging from positive to intense hostility.

To state the obvious, we all think for ourselves and inevitably form different views, and see different meanings. Anti-disinformation legislation, which is justified as protecting people from bad influences for the common good, is not merely patronising and infantilising, it treats citizens as mere machines ingesting data – robots, not humans. That is simply wrong.

Governments often make incorrect claims, and made many during Covid.

In Australia the authorities said lockdowns would only last a few weeks to “flatten the curve.” In the event they were imposed for over a year and there never was a “curve.” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020 and 2021 had the lowest levels of deaths from respiratory illness since records have been kept.

Governments will not apply the same standards to themselves, though, because governments always intend well (that comment may or may not be intended to be ironic; I leave it up to the reader to decide).

There is reason to think these laws will fail to achieve the desired result. The censorship regimes have a quantitative bias. They operate on the assumption that if a sufficient proportion of social media and other types of “information” is skewed towards pushing state propaganda, then the audience will inevitably be persuaded to believe the authorities.

But what is at issue is meaning, not the amount of messaging. Repetitious expressions of the government’s preferred narrative, especially ad hominem attacks like accusing anyone asking questions of being a conspiracy theorist, eventually become meaningless.

By contrast just one well-researched and well-argued post or article can permanently persuade readers to an anti-government view because it is more meaningful. I can recall reading pieces about Covid, including on Brownstone, that led inexorably to the conclusion that the authorities were lying and that something was very wrong. As a consequence the voluminous, mass media coverage supporting the government line just appeared to be meaningless noise. It was only of interest in exposing how the authorities were trying to manipulate the “narrative” – a debased word was once mainly used in a literary context – to cover their malfeasance.

In their push to cancel unapproved content, out-of-control governments are seeking to penalise what George Orwell called “thought crimes.” But they will never be able to truly stop people thinking for themselves, nor will they ever definitively know either the writer’s intent or what meaning people will ultimately derive. It is bad law, and it will eventually fail because it is, in itself, predicated on disinformation.

Previous article
Next article

9 COMMENTS

  1. From the article:

    ……” But they will never be able to truly stop people thinking for themselves”……

    But they can influence the outcome of that thinking which is not done in a vacuum. Thinking requires information, usually gathered from different sources. Thinking is the process of weighing up that information & the resultant decision/opinion is what is left after the mind has rejected the illogical & the impossible.

    If a government can censor the raw data they control individual thought.

    4

    0

  2. It is bad law, and it will eventually fail because it is, in itself, predicated on disinformation.

    There’s a lot to unpick in this article and the author tries to end on a positive note. But I’m sorry to say he is wrong. Firstly, the vast majority of people don’t think for themselves anyway (as nasska pointed out above while i was writing this LOL) and secondly laws which are predicated on disinformation don’t necessarily fail when the state can apply the force (literally) with which to enact them. When the Fascists close down your website and move against your hosting service it won’t do you any good arguing fine points of morals and ethics and semantics.

    5

    0

  3. It is bad law, and it will eventually fail because it is, in itself, predicated on disinformation.

    There’s a lot to unpick in this article and the author tries to end on a positive note. But I’m sorry to say he is wrong. Firstly, the vast majority of people don’t necessarily think for themselves anyway (as nasska pointed out above while I was writing this LOL), and secondly laws which are predicated on disinformation don’t necessarily fail when the state can apply the force (literally) with which to enact them. When the Fascists close down your website and move against your hosting service it won’t do you any good arguing fine points of morals and ethics and semantics.

    5

    0

  4. Another example of laws not fit for purpose, unless that purpose is to prevent facts from being published that sow doubt about what public figures spew forth, personally i believe nothing i read, hear on air, or that any public figure says.

    5

    0

    • It will get worse. Orwell in 1984 showed how it will be done:

      ……”For the moment he had shut his ears to the remoter noises and was listening to the stuff that streamed out of the telescreen. It appeared that there had even been demonstrations to thank Big Brother for raising the chocolate ration to twenty grammes a week. And only yesterday, he reflected, it had been announced that the ration was to be REDUCED to twenty grammes a week. Was it possible that they could swallow that, after only twenty-four hours? Yes, they swallowed it.”…….

      We can be allowed to think what we will but the result of that thinking will be totally influenced by the information supplied. In the end we will accept the propaganda because there will be no info other than propaganda to weigh it against.

      3

      0

Recent posts

Have Your Say

Monday Fun

Have Your Say

Recent comments

Viking on Have Your Say
Viking on Have Your Say
Sooty on Have Your Say
Nunnas on Have Your Say
waikatogirl on Have Your Say
Pinky1 on Have Your Say
nasska on Have Your Say
Ross12 on Have Your Say

Pike is our weekly review of the most popular posts and comments seen on YSB in the past week.
Hamilton
light rain
14.4 ° C
14.4 °
14.1 °
91 %
4.5kmh
100 %
Mon
15 °
Tue
18 °
Wed
15 °
Thu
12 °
Fri
13 °
NZD - New Zealand Dollar
USD
1.6643
EUR
1.7933
AUD
1.0982
CAD
1.2163
GBP
2.0861
JPY
0.0107
CNY
0.2301
INR
0.0199