“Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. The real extent of this state of misinformation is known only to those who are in situations to confront facts within their knowledge with the lies of the day.”
– Thomas Jefferson
The “Christmas tree bill” for 2016 was a renewal of the NDAA, a section of which has drawn the ire of free speech proponents. Many of you follow this stuff already, so just a recap:
A section of the NDAA called the “Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act” creates and funds a new federal organization to identify and censor propaganda and “fake news.” This is a group appointed by the white house to reward entities that resonate with the objectives of the administration, and silence “information warfare” that could sway support away from those objectives.
Excerpt from https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5181
(1) AUTHORIZATION OF APPROPRIATIONS.—There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary of State for fiscal years 2017 and 2018 $20,000,000 to support the Center and provide grants or contracts of financial support to civil society groups, journalists, nongovernmental organizations, federally funded research and development centers, private companies, or academic institutions for the following purposes:
(A) To support local independent media who are best placed to refute foreign disinformation and manipulation in their own communities.
(B) To collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda directed at the United States and its allies and partners.
(C) To analyze tactics, techniques, and procedures of foreign government information warfare with respect to disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda.
(D) To support efforts by the Center to counter efforts by foreign governments to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability of the United States and United States allies and partners.
(2) FUNDING AVAILABILITY AND LIMITATIONS.—All organizations that apply to receive funds under this subsection must undergo a vetting process in accordance with the relevant existing regulations to ensure their bona fides, capability, and experience, and their compatibility with United States interests and objectives.
Okay, the CFPDA has been a topic lately because it is fresh. But there’s another law I’d like to see included in the discussions, because the two laws work in synergy:
The Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 legalized the use of state sponsored propaganda to be disseminated domestically, with the intended audience to be foreign enemies following US media. Of note is the inclusion of “information centers and instructors” as points of propaganda distribution. Even if you support censorship that intends to subvert public perception, you must see a conflict of interest when the state is allowed to both promote its own propaganda and censor competing propaganda.
Excerpt from https://www.congress.gov/bill/112th-congress/house-bill/5736
Smith-Mundt Modernization Act of 2012 – Amends the United States Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 to authorize the Secretary of State and the Broadcasting Board of Governors to provide for the preparation and dissemination of information intended for foreign audiences abroad about the United States, including about its people, its history, and the federal government’s policies, through press, publications, radio, motion pictures, the Internet, and other information media, including social media, and through information centers and instructors. (Under current law such authority is restricted to information disseminated abroad, with a limited domestic exception.)
The result? All information may or may not be misinformation, and it’s a safe assumption that laws or no laws, it’s been that way all along. The remedy? I think Tommy Jefferson had it right. In my next installment, I’ll explore ways to stay informed in a world of misinformation.