A leading liberal voice has joined with conservatives in condemning Democratic efforts to regulate political speech on the internet, especially a new proposal to sue readers of sites like the Drudge Report and Facebook who share "disinformation."
Legal expert Jonathan Turley compared a new regulation plan pushed by former Federal Election Commissioner Ann Ravel to Russian President Vladimir Putin's strangulation of free speech.
"To combat ‘fake news,' Ravel and her co-authors would undermine the use of the Internet as a forum for free speech," Turley wrote of a proposal from Ravel and two co-authors revealed in Secrets.
"The regulation would include the targeting of people who share stories deemed fake or disinformation by government regulators. The irony is that such figures are decrying Russian interference with our system and responding by curtailing free speech -- something Vladimir Putin would certainly applaud," he added.
Joining with key election law Republicans in condemning the proposal, Turley said it would silence political speech on the web. "In one of the most reckless and chilling attacks on free speech, the former chair of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and Berkeley lecturer Ann Ravel is pushing for a federal crackdown on ‘disinformation' on the Internet — a term that she conspicuously fails to concretely define," he blogged.
"Without clearly defining ‘disinformation,' Ravel would give bureaucrats the power to label postings as false and harass those who share such information. Of course, this would also involve a massive databanks of collections ads and discussions by the government," he added.
In the plan, readers who share "fake news" about candidates from Twitter, Facebook and news sources like Drudge or even the New York Times could face libel suits.
In their proposal, the trio wrote, "after a social media user clicks ‘share' on a disputed item (if the platforms do not remove them and only label them as disputed), government can require that the user be reminded of the definition of libel against a public figure. Libel of public figures requires ‘actual malice,' defined as knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. Sharing an item that has been flagged as untrue might trigger liability under libel laws."
Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman, who for years has been warning of Democratic efforts to silence conservative news outlets on the internet, said, "A fatal flaw of Ann's proposal is that it cannot define what is, or is not, ‘disinformation' in a political message. Nevertheless, it proposes to tag threats of libel lawsuits and liability to thousands of American citizens who might want to retweet or forward a message that somebody else subjectively considers to be ‘disinformational.' I call that the big chill."
Turley's comments expand on that concern. He wrote:
I have been writing about the threat to free speech coming increasingly from the left, including Democratic politicians. The implications of such controls are being dismissed in the pursuit of new specters of "fake news" or "microaggressions" or "disinformation." The result has been a comprehensive assault on free speech from college campuses to the Internet to social media. What is particularly worrisome is the targeting of the Internet, which remains the single greatest advancement of free speech of our generation. Not surprisingly, governments see the Internet as a threat while others seeks to control its message.
Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org