Politics & Policy

The Russia ‘Fake News’ Scare Is All about Chilling Speech

Rep. Adm Schiff speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in May 2017. (Reuters file photo: Zach Gibson)
Democrats say we need state-controlled media to protect us against those totalitarian Russians.

Last week, Republicans began to call for the release of a memo authored by House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes that purports to lay out a series of abuses connected to the FBI surveillance of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. As often happens these days, a Twitter hashtag, #ReleaseTheMemo, evolved around the effort and was widely retweeted by Republicans and elected officials.

It didn’t take long for a report to emerge that claimed Russian-sponsored Twitter accounts and bots were the real driving force behind the viral call for the release of the memo. Without worrying about the veracity of this convenient claim, all the usual suspects giddily spread the story across social media — probably because they have such a deep reverence for truth in the Era of Trump.

The report also prompted Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, both Democrats, to pull out every fearmongering catchphrase available to demand that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg perform an “in-depth forensic examination” on the “ongoing attack by the Russian government through Kremlin-linked social media actors directly acting to intervene and influence our democratic process.”

It’s difficult, it seems, for some people to embrace neutral principles nowadays. But if you genuinely believe that President Donald Trump’s distasteful tweets are attacks on the foundations of free expression, how could you not be alarmed by a pair of powerful elected officials demanding that social-media companies hand over information about their users? What would they say if the president had sent a letter to Google insisting that it give the executive branch an “in-depth forensic examination” of his political opponent’s searches?

As it turns out, reports today say that Twitter’s internal analysis found it was mostly Americans, not creepy Slavic mind-control robots, who were behind the hashtag. Not that it really matters, anyway. If a group of Americans have a legitimate issue to rally around, how is it supposed to control what outsiders do? It’s not as if #ReleaseTheMemo were secret or illegal. Republican politicians were openly using it.

Yet if Feinstein and Schiff had their way, Twitter and Facebook would have moved to quash the #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag for what apparently turned out to be solely partisan reasons. That sounds like a power that can be abused. Even if the two had been genuinely troubled by Russian hashtags — yes, suspend your disbelief — the source of “fake news” is not always easily discernible. Sometimes it comes to you from an anonymous Russian bot, and sometimes it’s retweeted by a prominent journalist.

Democrats have manufactured panic over amateurish Russian propaganda not only to claim that Russian president Vladimir Putin was “meddling” in the election but also to argue that his purported interference had the power to turn the election to Trump. With this risible idea in hand, they have created paranoia about social-media interactions and rationalized infringements on expression.

Not long before she demanded forensic investigations into hashtags, Feinstein was demanding that Twitter, Facebook, and Google restrict their content more tightly, threatening, “Do something about it — or we will.” Democrats have attempted to control interactions through the Fairness Doctrine or the IRS, and now through the Russia scare. Part of living in a free country is dealing with messy, ugly misinformation.

Democrats have attempted to control interactions through the Fairness Doctrine or the IRS, and now through the Russia scare.

Lots of people in the United States seem pretty impressed by how they do things in Europe. In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May is launching a “rapid response unit” run by the state to “battle the proliferation of ‘fake news’ online.” The “national security communications unit” will be tasked with combating misinformation — as if it had either the power or ability to do so. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is working on a plan to combat “fake news,” which includes the power to institute an emergency block on websites during elections. What could possibly go wrong?

Me? I’d rather we live with Russian troll bots feeding us nonsense than with authoritarian senators dictating how we consume news. I mean, has anyone yet produced a single voter who lost his free will during the 2016 election because he had a Twitter interaction with an employee of a St. Petersburg troll farm? Or do voters tend to seek out the stories that back their own worldviews?

If your argument is that Americans are uninformed and easily misled, I’m with you. Just look at all the people who believe that a $46,000 buy on Facebook by the Russians was enough to destroy the pillars of our democracy. But if you want to live in a free and vibrant nation, you have to live with the externalities of that freedom.

READ MORE:

Putin Conspiracists Often Sound Envious

Combating Russian Disinformation: Use Reagan’s Techniques

Throwing Away the Russian Card

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

Most Popular

White House

Trump vs. the ‘Policy Community’

When it comes to Russia, I am with what Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman calls the American “policy community.” Vindman, of course, is one of the House Democrats’ star impeachment witnesses. His haughtiness in proclaiming the policy community and his membership in it grates, throughout his 340-page ... Read More
Law & the Courts

DACA’s Day in Court

When President Obama unilaterally changed immigration policy after repeatedly and correctly insisting that he lacked the constitutional power to do it, he said that congressional inaction had forced his hand. In the case of his first major unilateral move — “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals,” which ... Read More
Books

A Preposterous Review

A   Georgetown University professor named Charles King has reviewed my new book The Case for Nationalism for Foreign Affairs, and his review is a train wreck. It is worth dwelling on, not only because the review contains most of the lines of attack against my book, but because it is extraordinarily shoddy and ... Read More
White House

Nikki Haley Has a Point

Nikki Haley isn’t a Deep Stater. She’s not a saboteur. She wouldn’t undermine the duly elected president, no siree! That’s the message that comes along with Haley’s new memoir With All Due Respect. In that book, she gives the politician’s review of her career so far, shares some details about her ... Read More