Covid disinformation and free speech

If you’re American, at some point in your primary education you were probably introduced to the concept of the “marketplace of ideas.” Basically, you were told that in America we prize free speech so much that we protect it all and let the good ideas float to the top on merit and the untruths sink to the bottom.

So we protect all kinds of speech. Even the Holocaust deniers because we figure people are smart enough to discern truth from lies.

But when you think about it, OF COURSE Americans would believe in a capitalist structure when it comes to truth because that is our religious viewpoint. Capitalism and apple pie. We are individualists who put the onus on the individual to act righteously and sensibly. And when an individual doesn’t act that way, we hang them out to dry for their foolishness. We laugh at them and mock them. Because God favors the righteous and anyone who doesn’t win is a LOSER in God’s eyes.

Market theory assumes a lot, including that consumers have all the available information. But we know people act irrationally in markets. We know that markets in the real world have to be regulated because they are imperfect.

Same goes for speech. We know that people don’t have access to all the information. In fact, Republicans defund education for this specific purpose. So why would we believe that the truth will, on its own, rise above the lies?

I know everyone’s getting a kick out of hypocrites catching Covid. It’s cathartic. And it’s easy to say, “Fuck ‘em. If they’re selfish and stupid enough to use horse dewormer then they deserve to die.”

But that’s just more capitalist-minded, individualistic, Ayn Rand bullshit. We know that their deaths, preceded by their health descents affect hospital staff, healthcare bills, their families who might i beret their debts, the country’s morale, and have and will continue to create all other social costs. We cannot sit around waiting for the willfully ignorant and their less willing brethren to die. The virus mutates. We all lose out in the end.

If we are failing to win over hearts and minds with our messages, then we have to do better about 1. how and to whom we reach out and 2. regulating speech.

I’m no expert on first amendment law. I haven’t practiced law in a very long time, but I have one idea. If Texas can pass a law that allows any private citizen to sue any abortion provider for $10k to get around Roe v. Wade right to privacy protection, why doesn’t New York pass a law that makes Covid misinformation illegal and allows any private citizen to sue any provider of misinformation related to Covid for $10k? And anyone who assists in the dissemination of disinformation?

I know they’re not the same issue. There are a lot more federalism issues with broadcasting and the harm is more tenuous. But they both rely on medical harm as the basis. Just a series of thoughts.

And obviously the courts are set up to work slowly. These type of lawsuits could grind the system to a halt. And I’m sure Rupert Murdoch would through a lot of money behind Fox News. But it might work on YouTubers and podcasters.

The bigger problems of capitalist and political disenfranchisement and the nihilism that numbs the white liberals of this country can’t be fixed by the Supreme Court. I was watching Spike Lee’s documentary series on. Covid today and I agree with Jeffrey Wright 100% when he says that we have no spiritual guidance going forward. “Away” is not enough of a direction. We need a new vision. And we need more visionaries.

For now I give you James Burke:

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