Friday, March 30, 2018

Malaysia Proposes Crackdown On Fake News - What About In The U.S.?

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As reported in The Wall Street Journal ('Malaysia Aims At Fake News', March 27, p. A6),  the country of Malaysia is now prepared to treat the problem of fake news as a serious issue, as opposed to a frivolous lark by amiable know- nothings. As the piece notes:

"Malaysia's government has proposed a new law that would make spreading fake news a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison"


"The proposed law defines fake news as 'any news, information, data or reports which are wholly or partly false, whether in the form of features, visuals or audio recordings or in any other form capable of suggesting false words or ideas."

And further (ibid.):

"The draft of the proposed law allows a prison term of up to 10 years or a fine of up to 500,000 ringgit ($127, 715 U.S.) or both. Anyone failing to remove allegedly false material faces a further fine of up to 100,000 ringgit, and up to 3,000 ringgit for each day the material remains available"

Noting the bill must still be approved by both houses of parliament and is expected to become law before Malaysia's next national elections, which must be held in August and are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

On perusing the details of the proposed law it is difficult not to see that it could well be of use in the toxic fake news environment of the U.S. as well - under which cover of "protected first amendment" much vitriol and hate is spewed which is outright fake.  In terms of  "visuals" one can cite the image (which I will not dignify by reproducing here) a degenerate has created of Parkland student  Emma Gonzalez appearing to rip up the U.S. Constitution. Given how inflammatory the image is and that it is targeted at a victim of the Parkland massacre, "free speech" doesn't cut the mustard. Hence,  I can easily see this is where the Malaysian law could be applied and the perp given the full fine and 10 years to think about it.

First amendment purists and toads using it to cover their hate screeds will bitch but as I've already written before the first amendment is no more an absolute than the second. Both have to have limits imposed to mean anything if those who act under them aren't prepared to act responsibly. Indeed, in a guest blog post (Sept. 12, 2017) , philosopher George Lakeoff has already written on why hate speech (which is what the fake image of Emma amounts to) is not free speech, noting:

"Freedom in a free society is supposed to be for all. Therefore, freedom rules out imposing on the freedom of others. You are free to walk down the street, but not to keep others from doing so. The imposition on the freedom of others can come in overt, immediate physical form — thugs coming to attack with weapons. Violence may be a kind of expression, but it certainly is not “free speech.”

Like violence, hate speech can also be a physical imposition on the freedom of others. That is because language has a psychological effect imposed physically — on the neural system, with long-term crippling effects.

Here is the reason:

All thought is carried out by neural circuitry — it does not float in air. Language neurally activates thought. Language can thus change brains, both for the better and the worse. Hate speech changes the brains of those hated for the worse, creating toxic stress, fear and distrust — all physical, all in one’s neural circuitry active every day. This internal harm can be even more severe than an attack with a fist. It imposes on the freedom to think and therefore act free of fear, threats, and distrust. It imposes on one’s ability to think and act like a fully free citizen for a long time. 

That’s why hate speech imposes on the freedom of those targeted by the hate. Since being free in a free society requires not imposing on the freedom of others, hate speech does not fall under the category of free speech."

Under this standard, other examples of fake news that engenders hatred, e.g. photo-shopped images of the Parkland students as Nazis, would also not be protected. They'd all qualify as serious violations under an analog to the Malaysian law.   Amanda Marcotte, in her piece ('Conservatives Can't Stop Themselves From Bashing Parkland Students') has pointed out that:

"Alex Jones has equated the Parkland survivors to Nazis, suggesting they intend to murder gun owners. "Alt-right" sites are spreading fake images of the kids and spreading conspiracy theories, including claiming that the students are actors or that no massacre happened at all. "

Since Alex Jones would have obviously violated  the proposed Malaysian law - and again, under Lakeoff's principles he's not manifesting any "free speech"-   then he also merits the "book"  being thrown at him. Similarly for the Alt-Right troglodytes who incite hate and create conspiracy theories that the massacre never happened or that the students are crisis actors. Of course, if I were handling the sanctions I would give the perps 3 days to take down all their bullshit before bringing the hammer of the law. Ditto for imps who post images ("visuals")  showing Hitler and David Hogg in photos as if the latter is supported by the former. The excuse that the images are "satire" wouldn't cut it, and anyone with a grain of sense and an IQ over room temperature would know that. (In a similar way, anyone in Germany who uses cartoon, images, text or other fare to deny the Holocaust faces years in prison and huge fines.)

Again, free speech is not absolute or open ended, it implies limits. So does the 2nd amendment have limits, i.e. owning military grade weapons is NOT a right! (Again, MD and other states have banned such weapons without having had the laws overturned.)

The WSJ piece notes that the government didn't just spawn its proposed legislation on its own but  "sought the views of the Asia Internet Coalition when drafting the bill."  This group comprises companies such as  Facebook Inc.,  and Alphabet Inc's Google.  Incredibly, the group has also insisted "the prescriptive legislation wouldn't be an effective way to address the spread of false news."

This echoes many op-eds I have seen in the press recently (TIME, Financial Times, WaPo,  NY Times etc.) that users need to take their own responsibility for what they see and hear.  But how far does that go? Assume there is a massive threat of a storm, or hurricane, bearing down on the Gulf coast and people are advised to take cover and precautions against loss of life and property. But a fake news station, WFAK,  insists it's all baloney and merely a government ploy - a "nothing burger".  This leaves thousands to believe the fakery and hundreds perish. 

Or imagine some whacked out nut who sees Jones' lies about the Parkland kids  being "Nazis" and taking his guns, then acting out,  killing one or more of them. WHO has to pay? Certainly not the students if they ignore Jone's website. But he must pay for creating the malicious content that brought the harm. This ought to be a no brainer.

 Isn't there a need  -even in an alleged "free society" -  to protect vulnerable people,  say from those who'd undermine the polity and a given community's security using lies? This, of course, also applies to the venomous lies heaped on the Parkland student survivors like David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez - now rendered potential targets for crazies. This on account of the vicious lies spread by Alex Jones and others.

Frankly, I don't buy the conglomerate's claim that "false information is a highly complex issue" -  no it is not.  It is a very basic and simple issue but requires people read widely and don't tune into the liars and fake news disseminators. It also requires we impose restrictions on web sites and sources - like Alex Jones' site- if they are given to spreading malignant, hate-filled lies with the potential for harm to the targets.  ("Pizzagate" also qualifies under that rubric. After all, a nut armed with a semi-automatic rifle did barge into a D.C. pizza parlor looking to kill one or more people after reading the lie. Fortunately, no one was harmed that time.)

Fake news and information is only "complex" if we make it so, which then provides an expedient loophole for those who create it to operate with no restrictions and with impunity.  But given the toxic effect fake news is having on our nation, subtly and not so subtly ripping its remaining strands of civility asunder, we no longer have the luxury to ignore it or treat it frivolously. Or blithely regard it as a simple "exercise of free speech" - which it is not, as Lakeoff noted.

It is time to at least consider a Malaysian type of law.  And the first person in the dock ought to be Dotard Trump.

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