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Timothy Carney

Timothy Carney, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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What Democrats get wrong about misinformation and free speech

Jul 13, 2023

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College students protesting conservative campus speakers. The media arguing that all Hunter Biden critics are biased. Government officials promoting COVID-19 misinformation. These are just some of the examples many conservatives believe illustrate how “woke” liberals are promoting misinformation and threatening free speech in America.

Straight Arrow News contributor Timothy Carney explains why some of what liberals call “dangerous misinformation” today can prove to be the truth tomorrow.

You can’t have a debate with someone unless you share at least some values. I can’t convince you that turnstile hopping is wrong if you don’t think theft is wrong.

This is a problem in our current debates over free speech. When politicians say the government needs to crack down on misinformation or hate speech — and when colleges or other large institutions impose speech codes — you can’t appeal to them on the grounds of free speech, because they evidently don’t believe in free speech. 

Yes, the Constitution bars Congress from infringing on free speech, but the Constitution isn’t very popular these days either. It’s just an old-fashioned document, we were told, forged by racist and sexist white men more than 200 years ago. So appealing to the principle of free speech, or appealing to the Constitution, doesn’t fly with the speech police.

How then can we convince them that censorship is a mistake? Maybe we can teach them a little bit of humility, and thus give them a practical reason not to silence misinformation. Specifically, some of what they call dangerous misinformation today will prove to be the truth tomorrow. How do I know? It’s already happened a bunch of times since the Left got on this misinformation kick a few years ago.

You can’t have a debate with someone unless you share at least some values. I can’t convince you that turnstile-hopping is wrong if you don’t think theft is wrong.

 

This is a problem in our current debates over free speech. When politicians say the government needs to crack down on misinformation or hate speech — and when colleges or other large institutions impose speech codes — you can’t appeal to them on the grounds of free speech, because they evidently don’t believe in free speech. 

 

Yes, the Constitution bars Congress from infringing on free speech, but the Constitution isn’t very popular these days either. It’s just an old-fashioned document we were told forged by racist and sexist white men more than 200 years ago. So appealing to the principle of free speech, or appealing to the Constitution, doesn’t fly with the speech police. How then can we convince them that censorship is a mistake? Maybe we can teach them a little bit of humility, and thus give them a practical reason not to silence misinformation. Specifically, some of what they call dangerous misinformation today will prove to be the truth tomorrow. How do I know? It’s already happened a bunch of times since the Left got on this misinformation kick a few years ago. 

 

Let’s start with the origins of COVID. In 2020, Twitter suspended a Chinese virologist for suggesting that the virus leaked out of the Virology lab in Wuhan. The World Health Organization asked Facebook to remove any posts arguing that “COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured. This was misinformation that WHO insisted. Facebook complied. The mainstream media agreed with the WHO slapping the misinformation tag on any suggestion that the virus leaked out of a Virology lab.

 

Democrats, the news media and a huge swath of the intelligence community also branded as misinformation, the details of law breaking and cronyism leaking from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop. The ultimate goal of calling something misinformation is to render that information undeserving of any free speech protections. Misinformation is knowingly false information that causes harm. Protecting the world from this supposed harm is more important than the freedom of speech, the misinformation cops insist. 

 

Again, these people don’t value free speech as a principle. But they should value truth. And these days, the lab leak theory and the damning information about Hunter Biden both appear to be true. U.S. intelligence sources are now saying that the virus most likely emerged from the Wuhan Virology lab. 

 

And the details of Hunter Biden’s debauchery and cronyism are now accepted fact. If the US intelligence community, the World Health Organization, big tech and the major media could repeatedly be so certain yet so wrong, maybe they could use a dose of humility. The beliefs or reports they want to censor as misinformation today might turn out to be true tomorrow. That alone is reason enough to refrain from censorship. American liberals used to talk about the right to be wrong. They no longer believe in that. Hopefully, though, the last few years will convince them of the possibility that the speech police are not immune from being wrong.

 

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