Summary: Over the past almost two and a half centuries, faith in the common sense of Americans to make rational judgments—along with the protections of the First Amendment—preempted attempts to “protect” the public from shoddy information, whether it was called “misinformation,” “disinformation,” or “fake news.” But the Left is increasingly worried about losing control of the political narrative—and losing power. This is why progressive groups are increasingly encouraging government and Big Tech corporations to squelch certain “dangerous” information, even if they have no case the information is inaccurate. The Biden administration, in turn, seems bent on outsourcing censorship as emails between White House officials and Facebook executives have shown. Censorship is becoming a growth industry in the progressive nonprofit sector.
Misinformation and disinformation used to have distinct meanings. Increasingly both have–at least culturally and politically—morphed into a single definition of what the Left doesn’t want to hear or read, regardless of accuracy.
There is absolute merit in flagging bad news reporting, such as honest fact-checking or pointing out intentionally deceptive websites and social media posts masquerading as news sites. But in some cases, left-leaning organizations such as the Center for Countering Digital Hate and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies have branded fact-based conservative news websites as peddlers of fake news for not ascribing to a preferred progressive narrative.
These groups certainly aren’t alone.
Former President Donald Trump very successfully co-opted the phrase “fake news,” so the Left conflates the term disinformation (once associated with intelligence or espionage) and misinformation (something that isn’t true but is spreading) into a catchall phrase to slime conservative media outlets and commentators.
Whatever your preferred term for fake news, it’s important to note this is nothing new either in the United States or anywhere else. Sleezy supermarket tabloids predated the internet. Before that yellow journalism and newspapers owned and operated by political parties didn’t exactly adhere to a strong standard of accuracy or code of ethics.
Still, over a span of almost two and a half centuries, faith in the common sense of Americans to make rational judgments—along with the protections of the First Amendment—prevented the notion that the public had to be protected from shoddy information from taking hold. If someone is happier believing aliens assassinated President John F. Kennedy, that probably posed no risk to the country.
Then again, that’s not what the Left is worried about. Control of the political narrative means power. After a monopoly on public discourse was broken, the political and media establishment fear losing control of the narrative—thus losing power.
This is why progressive groups are increasingly encouraging government or Big Tech corporations to squelch certain information deemed as “dangerous,” even if they have no case the information is inaccurate.
The Biden administration, in turn, seems bent on outsourcing censorship—as the House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government has shown with unearthed emails between White House officials and Facebook executives.
Tossing around the terms “misinformation” and “disinformation” are now simply a rationale to advocate for censorship. Not only that, but censorship is becoming an industry of sorts in the progressive nonprofit sector.
Organizations with backing from entities tied to George Soros as well as the Ford Foundation, Craig Newark Philanthropies, and other major funders on the left have popped up in recent years to promote a censorship agenda.
Other more longstanding center-left nonprofits such as the Rand Corporation and Common Cause have joined the act. Then there is the Global Disinformation Index that has pocketed U.S. tax dollars for its silence pursuits.
Brazen Advocacy for Censorship
It’s perhaps a bit much to say the left-wing groups are saying the quiet part out loud. But some are close to openly calling for the suppression of views they just don’t agree with.
Possibly the most brazen of these censorship groups is the Data & Society Research Institute. The organization’s website contends it isn’t necessarily against free speech. “When technologists defend free speech above all other values, they play directly into the hands of white nationalists,” the Data & Society website says.
It seems to argue that only “idealistic” speech should be protected under the First Amendment. “But a commitment to freedom of speech above all else presumes an idealistic version of the internet that no longer exists,” the website continues. “And as long as we consider any content moderation to be censorship, minority voices will continue to be drowned out by their aggressive majority counterparts.”
The notion of what is “idealistic” is of course subjective. But the group offers a solution: Be more like other democratic countries that have less free speech than the United States. “Perhaps we might want to look at countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, which take a different approach to free speech than does the United States.” The post continues:
These countries recognize that unlimited free speech can lead to aggression and other tactics which end up silencing the speech of minorities—in other words, the tyranny of the majority. Creating online communities where all groups can speak may mean scaling back on some of the idealism of the early internet in favor of pragmatism. But recognizing this complexity is an absolutely necessary first step.
The organization was founded in 2014 with backing from Microsoft. Janet Haven, after working for the Soros-backed Open Society Foundations, became the chief of Data & Society.
Another Data & Society commentary argued, “Due to Black women’s intersectional oppressions of race, sex, class, and many other axes, ‘race neutral’ approaches to policy tend to harm Black women the most.”
Data & Society funders include the Soros-backed Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation—two of the biggest funders of left-leaning organizations. Arabella Advisors contributed to the organization as recently as 2020. The American Council of Learned Societies, Craig Newark Philanthropies, the Hewlett Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Russell Sage Foundation, the Someland Foundation, and the Internet Society Foundation have also contributed.
In the next installment, in 2022 Information Futures Lab replaced First Draft in bringing together journalists and influencers to counter supposed disinformation.