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WERNICK AND PEIKOFF: How To Free Voters’ Minds From The Shackles Of Algorithms

In today’s digital age, headlines scream about “disinformation” as a pervasive menace imperiling the very foundations of our constitutional republic. It’s a term that’s often used to justify restrictions on speech, sometimes sincerely (but mistakenly) for the noble cause of safeguarding truth, but more often for the venal purpose of consolidating power.

During our tenure at Parler we witnessed firsthand the consequences of wielding this term too broadly: we believe Parler was unjustly scapegoated and deplatformed precisely because we refused to “fact-check” content in accordance with the wishes of “trusted partners.” After that experience, we came to realize that it’s not disinformation we should be wary of so much as the lengths to which some will go to maintain control over the narrative. 

Still, as a society with a government whose legitimacy rests on the consent of the governed, we confront a significant challenge: the prevalence of “low-information voters.” Social media platforms have played a crucial role in shaping this landscape, profiting by means of an environment which actively reinforces those who prefer more than a dash of disinformation in their feeds.

However, the cronyist establishment — an exclusive cabal of Big Government, Mainstream Media, and recent entrants Big Tech, Big Pharma, and various NGOs — has a vested interest in maintaining the population in a low-information state. For if these voters were to encounter facts or arguments challenging the cronyist’s preferred narratives, it could disrupt their carefully constructed power structure.

So, while members of the cabal often complain about low-information voters, their actions belie their true preference: low-information voters whom they can easily manipulate, over “misinformed” or “malinformed” voters who might be persuaded of something by someone outside the cronies’ control. 

At least initially, social media platforms harnessed the spirit of that digital frontier we call the open Internet. They made it accessible to millions who sought to improve their lives by learning about the world we live in; sharing creations, discoveries, products, or ideas; and connecting and forming relationships with others across the globe. 

But statist and cronyist governments resent competition, especially when it threatens their tight grip on narrative. The open Internet, which places a world of information at our fingertips, allows us to do our own research, and then to create and choose our own narratives. It is the manipulative tyrant’s nemesis. 

According to an old saying, if you can’t beat them, join them. If governments had adopted this approach, we would have seen politicians and government agencies using social media to share their accomplishments; to announce and, as needed, defend their preferred policies; to address the questions and concerns of those whom they govern. But as the results achieved via the traditional approach failed to keep pace with their desire for ever more power, governments chose instead to force — more politely referred to as “nudging” or “enticing” — those they couldn’t beat to join them. First mainstream media outlets, and later social media companies, were cajoled into helping to propagate preferred narratives — and to silence all would-be challengers. 

To power-hungry politicians and bureaucrats, it doesn’t really matter whether voters are “low-informed” or “high-informed.” What matters is that they be selectively informed. And that government and its cronies do the selecting.

Hence the election-year calls from every quarter to suppress “disinformation,” “misinformation,” and sometimes even “malinformation” — aka inconvenient truths. Unfortunately, the extent to which COVID-era “disinformation” later proved true has affected neither the quantity nor the insistence of these demands for censorship.

There’s a simple solution to this problem. Our government has granted online platforms an enticement which has, in effect, deputized them as the crony clique’s information gatekeepers. Section 230 grants immunity from legal liability for user-generated content, even when that content’s reach is substantially enhanced by a platform’s algorithmic manipulation. 

We suggest a different rule: algorithmic manipulation which amplifies the reach of user-generated content, in relation to other content, should result in a platform’s potential legal liability for that content, much as if the platform were its publisher. With that modification, free speech of users would again be fully protected, because platforms would no longer be able to claim that their free speech rights include being immune from liability when they take steps to ensure that select users do the talking for them. 

After all, if a platform gives preferential treatment to content which supports a certain narrative in relation to the “disinformation” which challenges it, then isn’t it only fair to assign legal liability when the assertion implied and supported by such manipulation is fraudulent or defamatory?

Whether this change would require a narrower interpretation of, an amendment to, or a total repeal of Section 230 is open for debate. What’s not open for debate is that it would make platforms less eager to manipulate their users into outsourcing their critical thinking to “fact checkers,” “trusted partners,” or opaque algorithms. 

The real battle in this election year is ensuring that the consent of the governed is granted by voters whose minds have been left truly free, and given every opportunity to become fully informed.

Jeffrey and Amy are Strategic Investor and Chief Policy Officer, respectively, for BitChute, a video service provider which puts creators first, and facilitates and advances, to the maximum extent possible, our users’ exercise of their fundamental rights. BitChute is committed to fighting hate through debate, rather than resorting to algorithmic manipulation or censorship.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.

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