Who Decides What’s True?

Good news, everyone. A newly funded study will track “misinformation” and hate speech on the internet. The best part is that we all get to pay for it.

The Federal Government will spend approximately $1 million to fund a web service developed by Indiana University to monitor “false and misleading ideas” online, with a focus on political activities.

If this seems like a potential First Amendment problem, that’s because it is. As the Supreme Court has so bluntly and correctly put it, as far as the Constitution is concerned there is no such thing as a “false idea.” And that’s not just true as far as the Constitution is concerned. It’s true as far as the definition of “idea” is concerned.

Ideas have no truth value. There are good ideas and there are bad ideas in the same way that there are smart opinions and stupid opinions. But in the same way that an opinion cannot be “false,” an idea can’t either. Of course, there are ideas that are founded on incorrect information, or ideas that strongly imply facts that are untrue. But even those have no truth value in and of themselves.

The Supreme Court has stated that the First Amendment prevents us from passing laws against lying about military service. If the government can’t make laws against outright lies, seems like it also shouldn’t fund projects that tell us whose ideas are best. And the idea that a government-funded project has the goal of sniffing out “false ideas” is a little troubling, particularly when we know those ideas will be largely political in nature. It isn’t so far-fetched to think that the dialogue could be hijacked for political purposes.

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