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Thu Dec 8, 2016, 04:01 PM

Quality Assurance vs. Censorship in the Era of Fake News: An Idea

Here in America, we still (for now) have a Constitution and its Bill of Rights, one of the single most important and rightly valued of which is, that our government shall make NO LAWS that infringe on the freedom of something called "the press."

When that was written, of course, you could tell what "the press" was, because there was this huge machine (called a 'press'- go figure) involved in producing and disseminating it.

Over the centuries 'the press' has been redefined numerous times by various court decisions, and the nature and extent of its 'freedom' has been explored in a great many more. Both of those definitions are now quite broad.

And while many of those decisions and definitions have been applied to the compound term "news media," there has been little or no attempt to define, specifically, "news," as a distinct and separate category of information disseminated by the press or the 'news media.'

A good many court decisions have, essentially, said that virtually any information dissemination is protected by the First Amendment, and have explicitly noted that forms of information and expression that include satire, commentary, opinion, etcetera are protected either because their source is protected (the 'press', 'news media', etc.) or because they are "speech," an even more broadly-defined and highly-valued form of expression to which our rights may not be abridged by law.

But no one has yet taken a swing at answering the question, "How can our Fourth Estate do the part of its job related explicitly to reporting and disseminating actual news, in such a way that citizens may have confidence therein?"

With the establishment of an infinitely vast information creation and dissemination network, this question has direct relevance to the health of a democratic republican form of government.

How, then, do we protect "freedom of speech/the press" while giving the consumers of information some level of reliable information on WHAT they are consuming? Is it actual news? Comedy? Commentary? Opinion? Or... deception?

Am I reading, watching, listening to, posting, emailing, passing along, an actual news story? An honest opinion piece? A clear commentary? A straighforward essay? An overt speculation about something? An idea? A piece of fiction pulled out of somebody's ass to attract attention to themselves? Or a deliberately-deceptive fiction propagated to advance a covert agenda, and masquerading as 'news?'

I'd like to know, personally.

I'd like to have some confidence.

While I'd like to think I'm pretty good at assessing what I'm reading, I too can be fooled. I have my own confirmation biases and experiential context that colors such assessments.

So, here's what I am proposing, and it starts with an explicit rejection of two things: First, no laws involving any of this, and secondly, no exclusive control by government and to the extent that government does participate in the process, it must involve all three branches-- Executive, Judicial, and Legislative.

My idea: Establish an Information Description Commission (or any other name that seems relevant.)

The Commission would include one representative appointed by the Supreme Court, one appointed by the Senate, and one appointed by the Chief Executive. However, it would also include two additional representatives: One to be selected from a slate nominated by media providers, by a vote of all National Press Club members, and another to be selected from a slate nominated by academic and not-for-profit media watchdog and advocacy organizations, by an open online public vote which would require voters to supply verifiable unique personal identifying information. (Details for the qualification and nomination process in the latter two cases would have to be worked out, this is only a rough concept.)

Initially, the Commission's task would be to establish definitions for various types of information, with varying levels of stringency and verifiability attached to each definition.

The highest level(s) of definition might include criteria such as 'information reports include one or more of the following: "primary documentary source(s) that meets criteria (see further definition) publicly accessible," "on-the-record verifiable statement by primary qualified (see further definition) source(s)", "multiple secondary documentary and source references meeting criteria (see further definition)" with no or minimal non-sourced opinion or commentary.' Such information may be labeled "NEWS."

Next levels of definition might be looser and allow analysis and commentary of news, based on secondary and tertiary sources, such as academic and historical records; and opinions related to specific news. They, too, could be labeled "ANALYSIS" "COMMENTARY" and "OPINION".

A final level of definition would not include any criteria but would encourage information sources to use an array of consistent labels to identify the information.

No information source would be required to use definitions.

Any information source-- blog, online website, newsletter, magazine, podcast, video channel, whatever, can still disseminate any information they want to disseminate, without any label at all. They can call it whatever they want, put it out there, anyway they want. No strings.

BUT-- if an information source wants to use the Commission's Definition labels, that information source will agree to register with the Commission, and include their registration information in their masthead.

The Commission's task would then become to receive and investigate "label misuse" complaints from consumers.

An organization that used the labels without registering could be sanctioned.

A registered organization that used the labels inappropriately and/or received too many validated consumer complaints about label use could also be sanctioned, and/or have their registration revoked.

Registered organizations that used the "NEWS", "ANALYSIS", "COMMENTARY" and "OPINION" labels according to Commission guidelines would thus meet certain levels of criteria for the qualities and primary sources of the information they were purveying.

It wouldn't prevent anyone from pushing any information they wanted to push via any media they wanted to use to push it.

It would, to some extent, resurrect the kind of tacit 'tiered' system that existed for a while when there were only a few major broadcast networks, operating under FCC rules, and required to meet certain public interest requirements in purveying news, and "all the other" sources, without the same levels of access to public airwaves.

It's just an idea.

I have some sense of how difficult it would be to implement, but not much sense of why this or something very much like it, should NOT be implemented.

So, tell me?


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Reply Quality Assurance vs. Censorship in the Era of Fake News: An Idea (Original post)
TygrBright Dec 2016 OP
shraby Dec 2016 #1
TygrBright Dec 2016 #2
TygrBright Dec 2016 #3

Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Dec 8, 2016, 04:14 PM

1. It's worth a hard look in depth to see if it would work and what tweaks would be needed to make

it work. Once sorted out, it needs to be a hard fast set of laws so we can keep honest news as news and let the fake news slide down the ladder as it will.

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Response to shraby (Reply #1)

Thu Dec 8, 2016, 04:21 PM

2. Thanks! I'm sure there ARE problems to work out.

It's awfully hard to see the flaws in your own idea, especially at such an early stage.

But dayum, we really need SOMETHING that is both Constitutional and consistent, to enable the Fourth Estate to do its very important job in maintaining a democratic republic.


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Response to TygrBright (Original post)

Thu Dec 8, 2016, 08:53 PM

3. Wistful but hopeless self-kick for the evening crowd. n/t

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