From The Illusion of More:
On Tuesday, Meredith Filak Rose of Public Knowledge posted a blog suggesting that a solution to rampant misinformation is to “bring libraries online.” Not surprisingly, she identifies copyright law as the barrier currently preventing access to quality information that could otherwise help solve the problem …
“High-quality, vetted, peer-reviewed secondary sources are, unfortunately, increasingly hard to come by, online or off. Scientific and medical research is frequently locked behind paywalls and in expensive journals; legal documents are stuck in the pay-per-page hell that is the PACER filing system; and digital-only information can be erased, placing it out of public reach for good (absent some industrious archivists).”
Really? We’re just a few peer-reviewed papers away from addressing the social cancer of misinformation?
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The funny thing is that Rose does a pretty decent job of summing up how misinformation can be effectively deployed online, but her description could easily be the Public Knowledge Primer for Writing About Copyright Law:
Misinformation exploits this basic fact of human nature — that no one can be an expert in everything — by meeting people where they naturally are, and filling in the gaps in their knowledge with assertions that seem “plausible enough.” Sometimes, these assertions are misleading, false, or flatly self-serving. In aggregate, these gap-fillers add up to construct a totally alternate reality whose politics, science, law, and history bear only a passing resemblance to our own.
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Having said all that, Meredith Rose’s article does not say anything categorically false. It is a sincere editorial whose main flaw is that it is sincerely naïve. “…in the absence of accessible, high-quality, primary source information, it’s next to impossible to convince people that what they’ve been told isn’t true,” she writes.
Yeah. That psychological human frailty is not going to be cured by putting even more information online, regardless of how “good” it may be, or how copyright figures in the equation. To the contrary, more information is exactly why we’re wandering in a landscape of free-range ignorance in the first place.
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Speaking as someone schooled in what we might call traditional liberal academia, I believe Rose reiterates a classically liberal, academic fallacy, which assumes that if just enough horses are led to just enough water, then reason based on empirical evidence will prevail over ignorance. That’s not even true among the smartest horses who choose to drink. Humans tend to make decisions based on emotion more than information, and it is axiomatic that truth is in the eye of the beholder.
But if galloping bullshit is the disease, the catalyst causing it to spread is not copyright law keeping content off the internet, but the nature of the internet platforms themselves. By democratizing information with a billion soapboxes it was inevitable that this would foster bespoke realities occupied by warrens of subcultures that inoculate themselves against counter-narratives (i.e. facts) with an assortment of talismanic phrases used to dismiss the peer-reviewed scientist, journalist, doctor, et al, as part of a conspiracy who “don’t want us to know the truth.”
Link to the rest at The Illusion of More
While PG didn’t particularly like the tone of the OP, if you’re going to have an open Internet and if you’re going to have freedom of speech, it is all but certain that some people who operate their own blogs, participate in online discussion groups, write for newspapers, appear on television, publish books, have a Twitter account, etc., etc., are going to communicate ideas that either are wrong or seem wrong.
Ever since cave persons of various genders collected around an open fire to drink and talk, some incorrect information was passed from one person to at least one other person, then disseminated from there.
“If Rockie kills a brontosaurus and examines its entrails, he can tell whether it will rain in three days or not.”
Pretty soon, everyone is harassing Rockie to go dinosaur hunting so they could know whether to schedule the prom for next Thursday or not.
From that day until this, regardless of their political persuasion, someone is passing on false information, believing it to be the truth. Someone else is passing on false information for the greater good, knowing it is false. Someone else is creating false information because they have just discovered a great truth which isn’t.
A large majority of Americans regard Adolph Hitler and Nazism as an obvious and indisputable evil. However, this was not always so.
Charles Lindbergh was one of the greatest American heroes of the 1920’s. He gained even more public stature and enormous public sympathy in 1932, when his 20-month-old son was kidnapped. The most prominent journalist of the period, H. L. Mencken called the kidnapping and trial “the biggest story since the Resurrection.”
Responding to the kidnapping, the United States Congress passed the Federal Kidnapping Act, commonly called the “Lindbergh Law.” In the middle of the Great Depression, rewards equivalent to more than one million dollars in 2018 currency were offered for information leading to the safe return of the child.
A ransom of $50,000 (the equivalent of nearly $1 million today) was demanded for the safe return of the child and was paid. Unfortunately, the Lindbergh baby was killed before he could be found.
Back to the certainty of public opinion, in 1940, the America First Committee was established for the purpose of supporting Adolph Hitler and the Nazis by keeping the United States out of the war in Europe. It quickly gained more than 800,000 members, including a large number of prominent business figures. The pressure of the organization caused President Franklin Roosevelt to pledge that he would keep America out of war.
Lindbergh was greatly admired in Germany and, at the invitation of Hermann Göring, took a high-profile trip to Germany in 1936 where he was treated as a great hero and shown the highly-sophisticated airplanes developed for the German air force. Lindbergh was a high-profile visitor to the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, a huge Nazi propaganda exercise.
The visit was a press sensation with daily articles covering Lindbergh’s activities published in The New York Times. On his return, Lindbergh met with President Roosevelt to report on his observations and opinions. Lindbergh would return to Germany on two more occasions prior to the entry into the war by the United States.
Here’s a short video account of the America First movement and Lindbergh’s opposition to war with Germany from The Smithsonian
Circling back to the OP, had the Internet existed in 1936, what would “high-quality, peer-reviewed” articles have said about Germany and America’s best path forward? What would prominent academics, the owners of major media conglomerates and other prominent world leaders, have posted about Hitler and his supporters?
Prior to the outbreak of hostilities with Germany and Japan, the New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, New York Herald Tribune, Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and many more publications reported the great economic progress Hitler-lead Germany was making as it pulled itself out of the Depression and downplayed the extent and nature of the nation’s attacks on the Jews. Indeed, Hitler was providing the West with important benefits by vigorously attacking Bolshevism and imprisoning Communist supporters.
In Britain, The Daily Mail was a strong supporter of Germany. Harold Harmsworth, the first Viscount Rothermere, was the founder of the Daily Mail and owned 14 other papers. His influence was on a par with Lord Beaverbrook’s.
Rothermere was a strong supporter of Mussolini’s version of fascism, “He is the greatest figure of the age,” Rothermere proclaimed in 1928. “Mussolini will probably dominate the history of the 20th century as Napoleon dominated that of the early 19th.”
“[The Nazis] represent the rebirth of Germany as a nation,” Rothermere wrote in the Mail. The election, he correctly prophesied, would come to be seen as “a landmark of this time.”
The Nazis’ “Jew-baiting,” Rothermere warned, was “a stupid survival of medieval prejudice.” Of course, he also added, the Jews had brought the Nazis’ displeasure on themselves, having shown “conspicuous political unwisdom since the war.”
Germany had been “falling under the control of alien elements,” Rothermere argued. There were 20 times as many Jews in government positions than there had been before the war.
“Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine,” he noted darkly. “It is from such abuses that Hitler has freed Germany.”
The Jews were not just a problem in Germany. The menace they posed was much more widespread, he felt.
“The Jews are everywhere, controlling everything,” Rothermere wrote in private correspondence.
See The Times of Israel for more.
Back to the “problem” with fake news on the Internet, PG suggests that the online disputes between right and left are a feature, not a bug, in a free society.
An Appeal to Authority (“experts agree” “science says” “academic publications clearly demonstrate”) is a classic logical fallacy.
Whether in the form of “bringing libraries online,” “High-quality, vetted, peer-reviewed secondary sources,” or “keeping content off the internet,” PG is very much a supporter of free and open disputes, arguments as the best way of preserving the rights of all individuals, debunking fallacy and ensuring that no one group can control and limit the spread of information, whether fake news or real news.