The True Meaning of ‘Misinformation’

Public safety is an old justification for persecuting political opponents.

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Last week Senators Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) and Ben Ray Luján (D., N.M.) introduced a bill designed to suppress dangerous misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. Like similar proposals on the right, the bill would limit the liability shield of Section 230 for social-media platforms. Unlike proposals on the right, however, the Democratic senators have a correct understanding of what limiting the liability shield would accomplish — namely to further incentivize Big Tech to suppress conservative speech.

As others have noted, the legal effect of the bill would amount to exactly nothing, because even without the liability shield, American law provides no liability for the passive dissemination of medical misinformation. It is mostly theater. On the other hand, sometimes political theater has real consequences, especially when the intent — as with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Court-packing plan — is to intimidate and deter.

Klobuchar’s proposal for a Ministry of Public-Health Truth is especially chilling when you consider the broader trend of which it is merely the latest example. Misinformation is certainly bad for democracy. But, like the accusations of racism that abound today, the “misinformation” label is rarely an apt description of its subject. It is, rather, a rhetorical trick, employed for its value as a political weapon rather than as a signifier.

It is no mere coincidence that, like the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, the progressives’ campaign against “misinformation” entails their emphatic right to proclaim obvious falsehoods while suppressing their political adversaries’ right to speak obvious truth. The label is not used as a signifier at all, but as a tool of arbitrary power. It is the rule, the accusation, and the conviction, all bundled up in a single word — with no possibility of appeal. Its user automatically wins whatever argument may be at stake, thereby rendering further debate superfluous. After that, silencing the opposition becomes merely a ministerial function.

Consider PolitiFact’s latest display of professional martyrdom for the Democratic cause, recently chronicled by National Review’s David Harsanyi. PolitiFact went after a video that compared campaign-trail statements from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, suggesting that they wouldn’t trust a vaccine developed under auspices of the Trump administration.

Read the full article at National Review.