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PODCAST: Long live fake news

Freedom of expression is not a patrimonial good of the righteous, it is sacred also for those who hold unpleasant opinions.

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The undesirable experience of censorship hovers over us closely and puts at risk an absolute right of any democracy, fundamental for its development, we could even say it is more important than the right to the vote, and that is freedom of expression. If we begin to be afraid to express ourselves freely, if we believe that our thinking is susceptible to reprisals or punishments, democracy will become a farce.

A recent event can serve to exemplify the absurdity. It turns out that on December 18, the European Commission (EC) opened a sanctioning file against X, formerly known as Twitter, which represents the first formal procedure under Art. 66, against a platform within the framework of the Digital Services Act (the DSA) that came into force in 2023. What had been covert threats became reality. Europe launched a formal accusation against X for violating local laws, as announced by Thierry Breton, Commissioner for Internal Market of the European Union.

The investigation against the network maintains, among other things, that there is a lack of transparency regarding the measures implemented to combat disinformation. That new imaginary monster with which they wanted to scare us and which they called 'fake news.' The DSA states that fines can reach up to 6% of X's annual revenue, which would be a serious blow to Elon Musk. What the European Commission does is determine THE TRUTH authorized to be published, that is: it creates TRUTH based on its orders. The TRUTH managed from power is just a game of convenience that must be distrusted always and everywhere, the manipulation of reality by oligarchies is older than the big bang.

An enormous change occurred in the world in the 15th century when the printing press was invented, which took away the elites' monopoly on the circulation of information. For both scientific, political and religious nonconformists, the printing press was a vital instrument. The internet, like the printing press, has taken away the monopoly on truth from its modern guardians, the traditional and mass media that have been the spokesmen of government truths for decades.

Loud alarms rang in this century when the political power/media power collusion lost the influence it boasted. Politicians and elites around the world began to blame their defeats on 'fake news', as if it were the invention of lies. It was assumed that generations born in the 20th and 21st centuries had difficulty distinguishing fake news from real news. A simultaneous wave of regulation and criminalization of 'fake news' began to sweep the world. The censors are bad but not stupid, so they designed a powerful justification: the protection of the citizen. Which is nothing other than the renewed excuse for all totalitarianism: “The protection of the common good. The excuse is old but effective, in fact the world has been falling into the trap for centuries.

If news is false it should be refuted, not silenced. If news is insulting, there are legal mechanisms that repair it. But even with the best intentions, censorship means attacking freedom of expression and the option to disagree. Any law that goes against 'fake news' not only presumes that the State is in a position to know THE TRUTH better than citizens, but also grants governments appalling powers such as determining to their liking who the new heretics are. Totalitarian leaders are the first fighters against Fake News:

  • Erdogan, the president of Turkey, presented a bill that seeks prison sentences of up to three years for the spread of "disinformation" and "fake news" on digital platforms for anyone who distributes "false information" about internal and external security, public order and the well-being or for instigating “concern, fear and panic in society.”

  • In Russia in 2019, Vladimir Putin signed law No.31-FZ that allows blocking access to any online media in case of revealing "unreliable information" and law No.27-FZ that establishes fines for natural and legal individuals for the publication of "unreliable information." In 2020, he signed laws No.99-FZ and No.100-FZ establishing criminal sanctions for the dissemination of unreliable information about life and health including epidemics, natural and technological that aimed to make any doubt about the nature of COVID-19 illegal and the reasonableness of the measures to combat it.

  • "Sharing a lie makes you a liar," said a Malaysian government campaign against 'fake news'. Malaysia, one of the worst places in the world for the independent press, approved the Anti fake news 2018 initiative which establishes fines and penalties of up to six years in prison for creating, publishing or disseminating, both local and foreign media, including that shared on blogs and social networks "totally or partially false" news that affects the country or its citizens. "This law aims to protect the public from the proliferation of fake news, while guaranteeing freedom of expression, as provided for in the federal constitution." And who decides the taxonomy of what is false or not, what affects the citizen or not?... The government, of course.

  • In 2005, Venezuela included article 297-A in its Penal Code, which penalizes the dissemination of false information. This became an instrument of Hugo Chávez and later Nicolás Maduro against the independent press. Venezuela is a pioneer in the criminalization of fake news and punishes people who “disseminate false information that causes panic in any media” with up to five years in prison.

  • Colombia had an electoral reform proposal that was known as “a ban on speaking ill of politicians” and that sought to criminalize “political violence,” and consequently prohibit “false or insulting news (...) through the media of propaganda or publicity." Nicaragua is an exemplary case: in October 2020, the Nicaraguan Parliament approved the law against digital crimes, “committed through information and communication technologies,” which had the resounding support of Daniel Ortega. In Peru, in October 2020, a bill was presented to prohibit the spread of fake news such as electoral propaganda. It proposes a minimum prison sentence of 2 years for those who report “in a deliberate, artificial, automated and/or massive manner through a mass communication channel or social network.” A 2018 proposal in Uruguay proposed penalizing electoral misinformation with four years in prison, including "written words, songs, symbols, images, recordings or videos, that ideally mislead voters." The project did not prosper, but the political parties corporately signed a pact against fake news. In Germany, the "Facebook Law" was approved in 2017 to eliminate messages on networks that did not please those in power. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, has requested parliamentary regulations to control, limit and punish the spread of fake news on the internet. In 2020, Argentina launched the Observatory of disinformation and symbolic violence in digital media and platforms (NODIO) with the aim of “protecting citizens from false, malicious and fallacious news” that circulates on the internet.

It is more than proven that any tool that puts in hand the power to say what is or is not true is nothing more than a mechanism to control dissent. That is why totalitarians are the ones who cling the most to the instrument. It is not just about Nicaragua or Venezuela, in the heart of the exemplary liberal democracies, laws have been enacted that force social networks to eliminate false reports. Which provides States with the legitimacy of the monopoly of TRUTH, trampling on the ethical and philosophical foundations achieved centuries ago. Furthermore, laws have been added that enable and urge private companies to censor what the States consider hate speech, which is the way of applying the moral criteria of woke agenda to all private symbolic and cultural production that was not silenced by state subsidies.

Not even absolute kings had the power that technology provides today, capable of detecting and eliminating messages that governments do not like. Never has the attack against opposition and freedom of expression been so assisted by such global, effective and legitimized repressive mechanisms under the same criterion: the blessed 'fake news'. Any legislation that uses this tactic to intervene in the free circulation of ideas and messages is a path towards dictatorship and single thought. However, this coddled and fragile world is convinced that it needs guidance for everything, even to know when it is being lied to. The world cries out for the King to once again provide it with the criteria of truth.

Our grandmothers used to say: If everyone jumps off a bridge, will you jump off too? They did it to encourage our critical thinking. Well, currently humanity has shown that if the State imposed consensus to jump off the bridge, they would jump into the abyss without hesitation because at the end of the day “everyone does it.” Truth has been imposed by consensus, that is, a statement is true as long as it is considered as such by a community. Needless to say, especially when that community includes expert conglomerates, technology companies, and corporate media and governments. Our grandmothers were right: critical thinking saves lives, and we should always distrust official criteria of truth, such as the one that wants to protect us from 'fake news'. It's in our own self-defense.

Are we today a society based on respect for people's freedom? Not if we accept censorship.

Totalitarianism is the way of thinking for those who believe that rules are applied differently depending on the group one belongs to. It is a tyranny in the making to consider yourself to be of a morally superior social class that can determine who has or does not have rights. This social class is the same one that guarantees the freedom of expression for devil's advocates of terrorism, but they condemn those who are capable of disagreeing with their beliefs or denouncing their privileges. Prohibiting opinions, journalistic investigations and disagreement is prohibiting free expression. Consequently, it is an underlying threat and what we must ask ourselves is: In the name of what principles, interests and values, do those who CAN express themselves have the right to prevent others from doing so? They are the same ones who, according to their convenience, would silence Galileo or Darwin, who also, at some point, had minority and opposing positions to the reigning dogmas.

The greater the pressure exerted from power to limit individual capacity for analysis and personal growth, the more attacks and threats there will be. Only respect for the freedom of expression of those who do not think alike allows diversity of thought not to lead to violence. Perhaps officials of the European Commission should remember that freedom of expression and equality before the law are the values on which the achievements of modern societies rest. An example is the right to vote for women or the equality before the law of all people regardless of origin or religion. The beginning of these conquests always arose from heretical opinions of the time and that those in power and in charge of “what is correct” wanted to silence.

Are we today a society based on respect for people's freedom? Not if we accept censorship. Not if we propose jail and punishments for crimes of opinion. Freedom of expression does not only belong to the righteous, it is also sacred for those who have unpopular opinions, that deteriorate thought or that offend us. The current efforts to restrict freedom of expression by so-called liberal governments are still somewhat crazy; coming from those who cannot allow the individual search for truth. The suppression of freedom of expression will deprive citizens of the opportunity to correct and develop their own opinion. If current efforts to suppress freedom of expression are successful, the search for truth will eventually be criminalized and there will no longer be limits.