According to the former chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, Ann Ravel, it’s time for the agency to start cracking down on the spread of “disinformation” online. Ravel, who still has friends and allies sitting on the panel, argued last week that political content on the internet should be substantially regulated by the federal government. Publishers and users should be held accountable for what they share online, she said. And as far as she’s concerned, those users should be open to libel suits if they share “fake news” on their social media feeds.
In a paper published last week, Ravel and her co-authors laid out what they saw as a necessary step in government regulation given the news about Facebook and Russian propaganda. The authors proposed the following dystopian scenario:
“After a social media user clicks ‘share’ on a disputed item (if the platforms do not remove them and only label them as disputed), government can require that the user be reminded of the definition of libel against a public figure,” they wrote. “Libel of public figures requires ‘actual malice,’ defined as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. Sharing an item that has been flagged as untrue might trigger liability under libel laws.”
The Washington Examiner said this about Ravel’s proposal:
She would include ‘fake news,’ not just paid ads, to be regulated, though it’s never defined other than the Democrat’s description of ‘disinformation.’ And anybody who shares or retweets it could face a libel suit. She would also use regulation to ‘improve voter competence,’ according to the new proposal titled Fool Me Once: The Case for Government Regulation of ‘Fake News.’
The site’s Paul Bedard spoke to former FEC Chairman Lee Goodman, who expressed alarm at the proposals.
“Ann’s proposal is full blown regulation of all political content, even discussion of issues, posted at any time, for free or for a fee, on any online platform, from Facebook to the NewYorkTimes.com,” said Goodman. “A fatal flaw of Ann’s proposal is that it cannot define what is, or is not, ‘disinformation’ in a political message. Nevertheless, it proposes to tag threats of libel lawsuits and liability to thousands of American citizens who might want to retweet or forward a message that somebody else subjectively considers to be ‘disinformational.’ I call that the big chill.”
This is why we would prefer President Trump to lay off similar threats he’s made to the fake news media. While we fully understand where the president is coming from, he diminishes the high ground when he talks about “opening up the libel laws” and allows fanatical liberals like Ravel to wage war on freedom of speech. It’s important for Republicans to be on the right side of history when it comes to this debate.