Disinformation and Free Speech
When “disinformation” can be arbitrarily defined and punished, Free Speech will soon cease to exist.
World Leaders Agree
In countries like China, Russia and North Korea, “disinformation”(and any number of its synonyms) is SEVERELY punished. These countries are so effective in controlling speech that you can be identified, arrested, and “disappeared” all in one day if you dare to utter “disinformation”. If you are lucky, you’ll get your day in a kangaroo court before being hauled off to the gulag to learn your mistakes through hard labor.
What is “disinformation”? In these countries, it just means anything the supreme leaders (and their minions) don’t like. It is a label created by those in power to enslave the subjects. Words from the rulers are deemed to be truth. Words from the subjects, when inconsistent with those from the rulers, are deemed to be “disinformation” (or one of its MANY synonyms).
Tyrants understand very well that if they want to enslave the people they need to:
1: disarm the people.
2: silence the people.
3: instill fear into the people.
A disarmed and fearful people, stripped of their voices, will not and cannot rise up against tyranny.
Labeling dissenting voices as “disinformation” is an extremely effective way of instilling fear into potential dissidents. I know, because I was intimidated into silence for all the years I lived under communism. It is an insufferable kind of spiritual indignation that I wouldn’t even wish on people who owe me money.
The purpose of free speech?
The purpose of freedom of speech is to stop the next tyrant from emerging*. Once freedom of speech is lost, it’s only a matter of time that a ruthless tyrant will emerge, probably utilizing the power structure used to control “disinformation” among other things.
Free speech is not here for you to feel good about voicing your opinions. Naturally the free expression of one’s ideas can be quite enjoyable for many people, but that’s NOT the purpose of free speech.
Free speech does NOT grant you the freedom to offend people in any place that is not the public square: doing so would constitute harassment. You DO have the right not to be offended in your own residence. A different set of rules apply in the public square: showing up there means that you have consented to be exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, including ones that may offend you deeply.
The Flat Earthers’ “disinformation”
The flat earthers represent a case of harmless “disinformation”. What they believe in (that the earth is “flat” ) is so patently false that very few take them seriously, rendering this particular falsehood harmless.
Are they entitled to the opinion that the earth is flat? Of course!
Do they have the right to publish their ideas? Of course! They have the right to publish and we have the right not to read!
Are they right? Of course not! We have enough pictures of earth from space.
Are they banned? No, they are usually not banned in any country simply because they don’t pose any political threat to dictators (unless there’s a dictator whose ruling ideology involves the earth being round. Such a dictator does not exist — yet).
Should they be banned from the public education classrooms? Of course! You don’t want kids to be indoctrinated by this kind of falsehood now do you? Banning them from public education classrooms does NOT mean they are banned as a group of people or as a set of ideas, so long as they can still post on social media and publish pseudo-academic papers and host flat-earth seminars and conferences etc.
The flat earth theory, despite being bona-fide “disinformation”, is thus dealt with by society not by forcible prohibition but simply by irrelevance.
What about actual Nazis?
There are actually people who call themselves Nazis. They actually hold up swastika signs and go on Nazi marches. Quite unfortunately, they are afforded the same free speech rights as the rest of us.
Juxtaposition of free speech and Nazis is a commonly used tactic of free speech critics. By specifically emphasizing the freedom of speech enjoyed by literal self-claimed Nazis and the like, they aim to falsely associate free speech with people who openly harbor malice — therefore “convict” free speech through guilt by association. Here we are facing two enemies: the free speech critics and the Nazis exercising their free speech rights.
To be sure, Nazis are forbidden from actually practicing their religion. And thank goodness for THAT: as an Asian werewolf, I definitely fall into the “NOT Aryan” bucket. We have laws against political violence (for now) and Nazis are bound by that in our society, a fact I’m very thankful for.
So what can possibly be a good reason for letting Nazis enjoy the same freedom of speech as the rest of us?
There are actually quite a few reasons.
- The most important one is to prevent the government from having the power of arbitrarily silencing and/or arresting people (or worse) simply by slapping a label onto them. Such power is currently enjoyed by the likes of Putin and his counterparts in some of his South-Eastern Asian neighbors. Although I’m semi-confident that the initial cohort to wield this kind of power will most likely do so with good intentions, I’m not so optimistic about their successors. A tool that can be used for nefarious purposes will be used for nefarious purposes.
- Affording them free speech is to deny them spiritual martyrdom. Martyrdom, spiritual or otherwise, has always been an effective galvanizing tool for cults due to its power of evoking senses of victimhood, indignation and injustice, however false these senses may be. Armed with these vindicating emotions, they will dig further into their echo chamber and even less likely than before to re-examine the ideology they committed themselves to.
- If we have Nazis living amongst us, may I make the humble proposal that we face that fact and make the effort to understand the underlying reason(s). A common folk without any grievance, real or perceived, is highly unlikely to spontaneously morph into a Nazi. Crucially, this also applies to any number of destructive ideologies: Why are they gaining a following? What is their appeal? It’s easy to dismiss them as “crazy”. It is wise to understand them and root out the causes, if we can.
- If we have Nazis living amongst us, you want to know who the Nazis are, don’t you?
What can you do for Free Speech?
Free Speech is on life support in America right now. When I escaped from communism and came to America many years ago, I never envisioned that one day the American government would have a “Disinformation Governance Board”. The absurdity of this is deeply troubling.
Here we are, what can we do?
Exercise your Free Speech rights. I’m not a writer. I did not major in literature and the like. I’m just a first generation immigrant who has seen communism and REALLY doesn’t want to live under communism again. So I’m picking up the pen, however clumsily, to write down my voice. I hope you will choose to do the same. It doesn’t have to be a long article. It can be as simple as a reply or even just a “like” to someone else’s voice on social media. All efforts help.
Free Speech is such a rare gift in human history. I consider myself lucky to have experienced it. Together let’s try to preserve it for the next generation.
* It’s worth mentioning that free speech alone cannot stop a tyrant, the first two Constitutional Amendments must both exist. The details would be the topic of another day.