As the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion, part of David Kaye’s job is to announce the results of his fact-finding missions regarding the state of free and open discourse on the internet around the world on behalf of the United Nations.
A professor of law at University of California, Irvine, Kaye has submitted many reports to both the U.N. Human Rights Council and the U.N. General Assembly regarding the challenges facing freedom of expression in the digital age and has identified the manipulation of news and information — the phenomenon generally labeled as “fake news” — as one of the major issues confronting the digital media landscape internationally and posing a massive threat to the freedom of speech that Americans take for granted as part of their First Amendment rights.
In an interview published today on the website of the Pakistan-based Digital Rights Monitor, a non-profit media watchdog, Professor Kaye identified the worst offenders in the dissemination of misinformation over the internet worldwide. Calling governments the most culpable originators of digitally-distributed falsehoods, Kaye unsurprisingly identified President Donald Trump as the “worst” and most prolific source of “fake news” on the web in the United States.
“Governments are real offenders when it comes to disinformation,” Kaye told Digital Rights Monitor. “In my own country, the United States, the worst perpetrator of false information is the President of the United States.”
While the president has used his own accusations of “fake news” as a political weapon, the clear labeling of Trump by an official UN representative as the biggest offender in the promulgation of disinformation campaigns demonstrates once again that the president takes his own worst attributes to use as a cudgel against his political opponents in a transparent example of the psychological principle of projection.
While the controversies over the influence that “fake news” had over the results of the 2016 presidential election that placed Trump in the White House has led social media platforms to begin to police the content posted by their members, both human and automated bots, Professor Kaye believes that freedom of expression requires that the giants of the corporate social media world not be involved in evaluating the content placed on their platforms.
“The platforms, I think, can do things that are more technical as long as they are not evaluating content. There are things they can do. They can’t just zap it and say, ‘This is fake news, it’s off the platform,’” he told Digital Rights Monitor.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur believes that companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter should focus on minimizing spam and automated bot accounts instead of acting as content cops — although he acknowledges the difficulties in even determining what distinguishes a benign bot from a malicious one, saying that it’s “tricky, because there are good bots and bad bots.”
Trump’s designation as the “fake news” distributor-in-chief by a U.N. representative marks the confirmation of what has already been well documented by fact checkers at responsible journalistic outlets in this country such as The Washington Post, which has kept a running tally of Trump’s lies.
The efforts by mainstream media to keep the public informed as to what constitutes the truth versus manipulative “fake news” fit right in with Professor Kaye’s contention that the solution to misinformation campaigns sits with responsible journalists rather than with tech companies with little expertise in deciphering the facts from the politically motivated falsehoods.
It doesn’t take an experienced journalist at this point, however, to realize that anything emanating from the mouth or tiny fingers of Donald Trump rarely passes the smell test for the truth.
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Original reporting by Waqas Naeem at Digital Rights Monitor.