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Much to do about misinformation

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Joe Biden has been duly elected as the 46th president of the United States by the American people, and yet, despite there being no evidence of any suspicious activity, the Trump campaign continues to spread falsehoods, undermining American democracy.

We already knew that we lived in an age of disinformation; an age where President Donald J Trump could willingly lie to the American people without consequence, but this new saga has taken things up a gear. But what can we do about this misinformation?

Right now, American companies like Facebook and Twitter get away with not policing the content their users post thanks to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which states that, “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This protects the big tech companies from any lawsuits regarding the content that is posted on their platform.

That is about to change. The Democrats have long argued that big tech has a responsibility to ensure that their platforms are free of disinformation and hate speech, and while the Republicans are likely to argue against any ‘censorship’ of conservative voices, both parties largely back a change to Section 230.

But what does this mean? Well, Joe Biden wants congress to act, but he hasn’t actually specified how he wants congress to act. Previously he told the New York Times that platforms are “propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy.”

I am in complete agreement that we need to get a grip on disinformation which spreads like wildfire online, but there is naturally the worry of censorship. How do you decide when something is a matter of opinion and when something is a matter of fact-checking? Of course, some cases are blindingly obvious – like the fact that there was no rigged election in the United States – while others may be more contentious.

Big tech is likely to be stuck in the middle of this bloody battle, but hopefully we’ll come out of this with a more sensible approach to social media, because quite frankly, no one should be allowed to destroy the very fabric of American democracy, not even if they’re throwing a tantrum in the White House.

This editorial originally appeared in the Data Centre Review Newsletter dated November 27, 2020. To ensure you receive these editorials direct to your inbox, subscribe to the newsletter now.

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