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Information is Good, Unless it's Misinformation

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.” He was talking about why education matters in a representative democracy, but it’s a safe bet that had he known about fake internet news, he’d have said the same thing - except maybe with more pointed words.

Our representative democra­ cy depends on ordinary people making sound judgments about politicians and policy. This is hard to do at the best of times. To fold into that mix delib­ erately false news makes the citizen’s task much more dif­ ficult - maybe even impossible. Yet, astoundingly, that’swhere we find ourselves now. These

days, purveyors offake news get paid to mislead the public. Outside of criminal activities like bribery, it’s hard for me to imagine a greater disservice to our country.

Responsible media outlets
are increasingly aware ofthe problem and are seeking ways to counteract it - as well as to Call out politicians who blatantly traffic in misrepresentation. In comingyears, real journalists’ ability to identify bogus stories, rebut ignorant claims that go viral, and stymie efforts at mis­ information will be a vital part of their responsibilities.

Similarly, the platforms that have given an outlet to fake news - Facebook and other social media - are recognizing

their obligation to fight it with­ out compromising users’access to the real stuff.

Which, of course, is what makes figuring out what to
do about false news so dif­ ficult. When misinformation has spread in the past, we’ve always been able to depend
on the truth catching up and eventually prevailing. Now, the circuits are being overloaded - not just by the proliferation of platforms and sources of infor­ mation, but by people who are using the tools of democracy to undermine it. We must strive for an environment in which truth wins the day in the war over information.

I can’t pretend to know how we will ultimately help Ameri­

cans sort through what’s truth and untruth, what’s serious argument and what’s propa­ ganda, but I do know that this is one of the key battles of our time. Fake news is a threat to our system, a land mine that can cripple representative de­ mocracy by making a mockery of its most basic tenet: that

the people will make the right decisions.

This is a challenge we need to address head on and without delay - the future of our repre­ sentative democracy is at stake.

Lee Hamilton is a senior adviser for the Indiana University Center

on Representative Government. He represented Indiana’s 9th Congres­ sional District as a Democratic member of the U.S. House ofRep­ resentativesfor 34years.

DMU Timestamp: February 27, 2021 01:26

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