A recent poll from the Pew Research Institute asked: “Is it acceptable for government to limit what it considers “misinformation” online. Sadly, most Americans believe government has a role in controlling the flow of false information on the internet. Obviously, tech companies have a stake in the outcome of permitting false or misleading information online. But they are private entities with a financial interest in maintaining the integrity of their sites. Americans should understand (but a majority clearly do not) that freedom of speech, even if untruthful, is covered by the First Amendment; because if one isn’t free to express themselves, they are not free. There is a reason freedom of speech is covered under the FIRST Amendment.
According to the July survey support for both technology companies and the federal government taking steps to restrict false online content has grown from 39% in 2018 to 55% in 2023. This increase in the public’s support for government intervention comes on the heels of recent court cases and public debate about how tech companies can and should reduce not only bogus information, but also violent content from the web.
Americans were asked should the U.S. Government take steps to restrict false information online, even if it limits freedom of information. The split along party lines is interesting if not predictable. Among Democrats and those who lean democrat, 70% think Congress should insert itself into the issue. Only 39 percent of republicans agree. How is it that a people living in the freest nation on earth, with the only constitution that includes a Bill of Rights that specifically limits government, can believe the government should be permitted to clamp down on speech it deems untrue? Giving any government that kind of authority often leads to totalitarianism. It happens incrementally, through a series of tipping points, but eventually government will overstep its bounds and resort to heavy-handed measures that infringe on individual liberty.
A better approach would be to let the consumer decide for himself the veracity of online content. If a site is peddling “fake news” or factually challenged information, the user will catch on and get his news from other sources. That’s how the free market works. There is no need for government at any level to police speech. As Thomas Jefferson put it, and I’m paraphrasing, “tyranny has a natural tendency to increase, liberty, a natural tendency to decrease.” With the plethora of information at our disposal, let’s let Americans decide for themselves whether the news they receive is factual or not.