HT19 WiP: Dr Étienne Brown

Foreign-born presidents and contagious vaccines: should online misinformation be legally prohibited?

Philosophers are increasingly worried that false rumors which circulate on social networking sites – such as the ones evoked by the title of this presentation – leave lasting traces on the beliefs and behavior of even alert consumers (Rini 2017, Levy 2017, Gelfert 2018). So is France’s President Emmanuel Macron. During the last few months, Macron faced severe criticism from the French Senate for attempting to pass his "loi contre la manipulation de l'information," a legal attempt to curb fake news that the Assemblée nationale ultimately adopted on November 20, 2018. More than once, the Senate argued that Macron's law, which allows judges to order the removal of fake news from social networking sites, was a blatant violation of our individual right to freedom of expression.
I suggest that the French Senate’s argument is less convincing than it might initially seem. Without defending the details of Macron's law, I argue that legal prohibitions against the intentional diffusion of fake news is compatible with free speech. In my view, organizations that intentionally create and diffuse fake news (i) knowingly disrupt a mutually beneficial form of social epistemic dependence in which we are engaged with journalists, and (ii) hinder individuals' autonomy by impeding them from forming true beliefs which are instrumental to the promotion of their personal ends. Ultimately, we should protect individuals’ autonomy rather than their putative right to deceive others for commercial or political purposes. My conclusion is not that we should ban fake news, but more moderately that if we choose not to do so, it should be for pragmatic reasons rather than reasons which relate to freedom of expression.

Internal only - booking not required.

Venue: Oxford Martin School, Seminar Room 2