Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday released a plan to fight disinformation to hold tech companies accountable for their actions in light of the 2016 election.
That’s one way of putting it, certainly. Another would be: Having bought into the conspiracy theory that the 2016 election was meaningfully affected by people arguing stupidly online, Elizabeth Warren has released a plan for the federal government to regulate the press, the publishing industry, and the Internet.
Why? To save democracy, naturally:
“Disinformation and online foreign interference erode our democracy, and Donald Trump has invited both,” Warren said in a Tweet Wednesday. “Anyone who seeks to challenge and defeat Donald Trump in the 2020 election must be fully prepared to take this on – and I’ve got a plan to do it.”
Warren proposed to combat disinformation by holding big tech companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google responsible for spreading misinformation designed to suppress voters from turning out.
“I will push for new laws that impose tough civil and criminal penalties for knowingly disseminating this kind of information, which has the explicit purpose of undermining the basic right to vote,” Warren said in a press release.
It is difficult to know where to start here. No such “democracy” exemption exists within the First Amendment, and no such exemption should exist within the First Amendment. The merits of my doing so aside, if I wish to say or write that particular people should not vote, or that immigrants such as myself should be disenfranchised or that the 19th Amendment was a mistake, that is my right. Were this not the case — were it the case, that is, that the First Amendment could be regulated in such cases as it were being used to attack other parts of the Constitution — then Elizabeth Warren herself would be liable for prosecution. (Or, at the very least, for being “held accountable” by the president, whatever that means.)
Ironically enough, Warren’s proposal would represent a boon to precisely the sort of corruption and entrenchment of power that she insists she wishes to fight. In the vast majority of cases it would be wholly impossible for the government to determine what sort of speech served to “undermine the basic right to vote” or to “to polarize and disenfranchise particular groups” or to “disempower voters,” such that any concerted attempt to do so would necessarily be driven by partisan interest and little else besides. Warren complains that “the same tactics employed by the Russian government are just as easily accessible to domestic groups seeking to promote or oppose candidates and political or social issues.” Those tactics, lest we forget, were . . . arguing about politics. There is simply no way for the federal government to superintend “domestic groups seeking to promote or oppose candidates and political or social issues” without the federal government controlling political speech.
It was recently proposed that it should be unconstitutional to vote Republican. Warren’s idea is merely that scheme applied to the First Amendment. In effect, Warren is seeking the power to decide what is true and what is not — and what may be disseminated and what may not — and to apply this power to the elections in which she herself takes part. That she is chasing this authority while accusing the incumbent president of seeking to use his office for personal political gain (which he did) is startling.