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29 Jan, 2020 22:48

Warren calls for criminalizing online 'disinformation,' gets roasted for Orwellian overreach

Warren calls for criminalizing online 'disinformation,' gets roasted for Orwellian overreach

Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren has called for criminalizing knowingly disseminating ‘disinformation’ about voting, a move that would give the government the power to decide what constitutes truth and lies.

Warren called for “civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating false information about when and how to vote in US elections” on Wednesday, as part of the lengthy and occasionally self-contradictory plan for “fighting digital disinformation” posted to her campaign website.

The policy has raised a few eyebrows, given the candidate’s own tenuous relationship with the truth, but also the slippery slope that tends to come into play whenever censorship is involved.

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The Massachusetts senator also called for a “summit of countries to enhance information sharing and coordinate policy responses to disinformation” and “additional sanctions against countries that engage in election interference through disinformation,” though she did not make clear how she would divide the world into disinformation “victim” and “perpetrator” nations.

She only mentioned Russia in the latter category, forgetting disinformation campaigns having surfaced run by the US itself and Israel, along with the usual US targets like Iran.

In addition to calling on her fellow Democratic contenders not to knowingly use disinfo “to benefit their own candidacy or damage others” and pledging that her own campaign would avoid doing the same, Warren called on social media platforms to share information among themselves and the government, inform users about how algorithms work, and tip people off if they’d been targeted by a disinfo campaign - and “clearly label content created or promoted by state-controlled organizations,” which many already do, albeit with a more lenient approach toward outlets controlled by the US and its allies.

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The crusade against online disinformation struck some on social media as particularly ironic coming from Warren, who has been accused by supporters of rival Bernie Sanders of flat-out inventing an encounter between them in which Sanders allegedly told her a woman could not be president - just days before the most recent Democratic debate.

Several brought up Warren’s fake claim of Native American heritage, a nugget of “disinfo” that earned her the nickname “Pocahontas” from President Donald Trump and has continued to haunt her.

Others reminded her that neither her fellow Democrats nor the supposedly-authoritative mainstream media are known for being grounded in facts.

Others warned that letting a Warren government (or any government) pick what’s designated “disinformation” would not end well.

Warren’s defenders insisted the plan was merely to criminalize disinformation about voting.

While Warren’s true intentions are known only to her campaign, it is worth recalling that Facebook began what has become a sprawling censorship program by banning “misinformation” about when and where to vote in 2016. By 2018, that initiative had expanded to disinformation about voting requirements, voting-related incidents (violence, long lines, or other disturbances), and other voting-adjacent falsehoods.

Popular right-wing radio host Alex Jones was mass-deplatformed from all social media shortly before that year’s midterm elections, kicking off an avalanche of censorship and un-personing that has touched both ends of the political spectrum, leaving only political advertisements untouched. Warren, unsurprisingly, is one of many who has called for Facebook to fact-check its political ads as well.

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