One person’s misinformation is another’s sincerely held religious belief.
The Scourge of Misinformation, proposed New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the United Nations last week, must be globally regulated like guns, bombs or nukes.
“But what if that lie, told repeatedly, and across many platforms, prompts, inspires, or motivates others to take up arms? To threaten the security of others? To turn a blind eye to atrocities, or worse, to become complicit in them? What then?” Ms. Ardern asked of dangerous “misinformation” spread on online platforms.
“This is no longer a hypothetical,” she added. “The weapons of war have changed, they are upon us and require the same level of action and activity that we put into the weapons of old.”
“We recognized the threats that the old weapons created,” Ardern added. “We came together as communities to minimize these threats. We created international rules, norms and expectations. We never saw that as a threat to our individual liberties- rather, it was a preservation of them. The same must apply now as we take on these new challenges.”
On its surface, these statements may seem reasonable enough, but for one glaring problem: Guns, bombs and nuclear weapons are obviously, objectively, and always guns, bombs and nuclear weapons; the same is not true of “misinformation”.
A gun is a gun is a gun; it is a weapon capable of launching small projectiles at astonishing speeds to deadly effect.
A bomb by any other name would still be a bomb and can’t possibly be considered anything else. One person’s idea of a bomb isn’t another’s idea of a bunny rabbit. The definition of “bomb” isn’t a subjective reality; objectively, ask anyone, a device constructed of chemical and projectile components designed to explode at detonation is a bomb and there can be no doubt whatsoever about it.
There are various ways to construct bombs. Thanks to a fair amount of global censorship, which isn’t always bad, books like the Big Book of Mischief and the Anarchist’s Cookbook which explain these different methods in detail are very difficult to obtain. Online instructions on bomb-making are similarly deep-sixed, to the great relief of law enforcement and intelligence agencies worldwide.
There is even less obscurity in the definition of a nuclear bomb. A nuclear weapon is absolutely impossible to mistake for anything else.
Does everyone agree about what constitutes “misinformation”?
Some people on earth, a good many of them in fact, believe the world was created by an all-powerful, omniscient and omnipresent form of higher consciousness, a deity.
Some cultures call it “God”, “Allah” or “Jehovah”, but there have been plenty of other names.
According to other religious authorities of various faith traditions dating all the way back to the beginning of recorded history, the world we live in is populated by all sorts of deities, gods, ghosts, demigods and semigods.
Some religions believe in an eternal afterlife; heaven, hell, Gehenna, Nirvana, hades. Others believe in a cycle of reincarnation.
To outsiders, the sincerely held religious beliefs of the faithful can often seem strange, nonsensical, even ludicrous. They can also seem heartless and cruel.
Telling a parent who has just lost a child, for instance, it was “God’s will” seems a bit unfeeling. Telling someone suffering a debilitating disease that it is a punishment for transgressions committed in a past life may seem equally cruel.
Nor has humankind stopped producing new religions; on the contrary. Certain sub-sets of political and social beliefs- Marxism, for instance- have been elevated to the status of a new religion- complete with dogma, sacred texts, and a sharp divide between the elect and heretics.
L. Ron Hubbard, of Scientology fame, created a brand new religion practically out of whole cloth not long ago.
To outsiders, the tenets of these new religions seem just as fantastical and fictional as the ancient religions which survive into the present day.
Magical under-garments, aliens, people rising from the dead, immaculate conception; miraculous, impossible journeys, healings, exorcisms, communism: The realm of the spiritual beliefs of mankind would make any fiction writer green with envy.
Do we humans contradict ourselves? Our parthenon contains multitudes.
To devout members of faith communities around the world, the beliefs of atheists and agnostics are equally impossible to comprehend.
Do religious beliefs meet the standards set forth by PM Jacinda Ardern for “dangerous misinformation”?
After all, religious beliefs have caused the faithful to take up arms against members of other faiths, even coreligionists- especially coreligionists. Likewise, people of faith have been persecuted to death and destruction by nonbelievers. Both conditions persist to this day.
Anyone presuming to censor and police the beliefs and free speech of others would have to be right all the time to be justified in their actions.
Governments, organizations and industries can be right every single time at it pertains to identifying a gun, bomb, or nuke. Identifying “misinformation” isn’t nearly as straightforward.
People have a right to believe whatever they like; even if they’re wrong.
If world leaders really care reducing the spread of dangerous misinformation, policing the speech of ordinary people around the world is the opposite of an effective strategy.
China, just like Russia, has been openly using information warfare strategies to weaken its geopolitical rivals and enemies for at least a decade. Vast content farms owned by the CCP pump out mountains of propaganda content designed to undermine institutions and authorities in other countries.
Election interference, intellectual capture, hacking; one factor more than any other allows nefarious agencies- public and private- to get away with these campaigns, which should be considered the acts of war they are:
Elon Musk’s quest to unmask the true number of bots and fake accounts on Twitter involves questions much deeper than stock prices and Twitter shares.
The world isn’t ready for a global censorship effort to crack-down on misinformation. The human race is too religiously, culturally, and ethnically diverse for any such system to possibly work.
What the world online is ready for, perhaps overdue for, is an end to anonymity on social media sites. Bad actors, foreign enemies, trolls and information warfare strategies cannot possibly thrive in an online environment where users must sign their name- their legal name- to everything they post.
Citizens of a free nation have the right to believe as they like. They are entitled to the free speech protections designed to enshrine their right to talk openly about those beliefs. They should say whatever they like on the internet, on social media or otherwise.
As long as they are willing to sign their name at the bottom.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)