Just What America Needs, A Government Truth Squad: New at Reason

A California lawmaker wants to make it illegal to publish or share a "false or deceptive statement" meant to influence voters.

A. Barton Hinkle writes:

If there's one thing this country needs, it's a Ministry of Truth. Just ask California lawmakers.

A lot of fake news has been floating around in the ether during the past few months, as anyone who has read the mainstream press can attest. Some of the stuff is obviously fictional, such as the story reporting that the pope endorsed Donald Trump for president. That was plainly absurd; everybody knows Francis was a Jim Gilmore man all the way. But sometimes it's a little harder to tell. When the satirical news magazine The Onion reports "Military Aides Try To Cheer Up Kim Jong-Un After Failed Missile Launch By Putting On Surprise Execution," you have to wonder. Maybe it's worth Googling, just to be sure.

Moreover, a certain segment of the public is satire-impaired. This has led to the creation of sites such as literallyunbelievable.org and listicles such as "25 People Who Don't Realize The Onion Isn't A Real News Source," which post social-media reactions from people like Facebook user "T." When The Onion reported, "New Sony Nose Buds Allow Users to Blast Different Smells Into Nostrils," T responded: "Dumbest [expletive] I ever read. Even if they worked who wants to go around with what looks like ear buds in your nose, u would look like a complete idiot." Yes, u would.

Not every false thing on the internet is satire, however, and some false stories can do real harm. Example: Pizzagate, in which a family-run Washington pizzeria was accused of running a child-sex ring connected to Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman, John Podesta. The story became a nightmare for the owners of the pizzaria, who suffered harassment and death threats for months.

Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has since apologized for his role in spreading the story, but that didn't keep protesters from showing up in D.C. a day later to demand that someone investigate the story anyhow. The Truth Is Out There.

Episodes such as that are rare, but false political claims on the internet are ubiquitous, and Serious People consider this a Very Bad Thing. Now a lawmaker in California has determined to do something about it.

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