February 1, 2018  |  Updated February 13, 2019

The Disinformation Crisis and the Erosion of Truth

By Dean Jackson

In a famous 1927 defense of free speech, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” His words, penned over ninety years ago, could neatly summarize the democratic response to the current disinformation crisis we now face in the current age of the Internet and globalization. They share the same basic assumption: that given time, truth and reason will prevail over their opposites. But what if that shared assumption proves false?

First, the response to date: according to an October 2017 Council of Europe report by First Draft News, the number of fact-checking and verification projects has “exploded” (a Duke University project lists 136 active, verified fact-checking sites). News and media literacy initiatives have also come into vogue, with major donors putting significant resources behind new and existing efforts to better equip citizens to be discerning media consumers. Badly-needed support for independent media is helping to sustain the flow of quality content—“more speech” to counter “falsehoods and fallacies.”

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