Disinformation purveyor and former CNN anchor Brian Stelter recently hosted a panel titled “The Clear and Present Danger of Disinformation” at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday. Instead of discussing genuine truth-seeking, the panel was far more preoccupied with lamenting about Trump, demonizing the political right, and rebranding censorship as “public safety.”
While many of the panelists claimed they wanted to protect free speech and expression, their policy prescriptions for combating disinformation showed us very clearly that this wasn’t the case. According to panelist and New York Times journalist Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, “the disinformation question maps basically to every other challenge that we’re grappling with as a society, and certainly the most existential among them.”
What is Sulzberger’s answer to the “existential” disinformation “challenge”? Censorship.
“At some point, given the central role of the platforms in disseminating bad information, I think they’re going to have to do an unpopular and brave thing, which is to differentiate and elevate trustworthy sources of information consistently,” said Sulzberger. “Until they do, we have to assume that those environments are poisoned.”
What the panelists deem disinformation and who they deem a promoter of disinformation is key to understanding what rhetoric and people the Davos crowd want silenced. Early on in the discussion, panelist and U.S. Representative Seth Moulton proclaimed that “Donald Trump came to power and proved that lying works.” Moulton later added that while disinformation does exist on the left, “there’s some good evidence, at least in U.S. politics, that [the spread of disinformation] is more of a problem on the right.”
There’s a lot of irony in claiming that the left is more truthful than the right, given that the left profusely denies some of the universe’s most fundamental truths, particularly that men cannot be women and women cannot be men.
The panel also focused heavily on “established” news brands regaining trust and power among the people. However, instead of looking inward and discussing what caused the American people to distrust the media, such as their habitual lies on the Covid vaccine’s efficacy, the Russia collusion Hoax, and the Hunter Biden laptop cover-up, they blamed Trump.
Sulzberger claimed distrust in the corporate media is thanks to the phrases “fake news” and “enemies of the people,” two terms popularized by Donald Trump to criticize the corporate media. Sulzberger even likened the phrase’s modern use to Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.
“To be clear,” said Sulzberger, “terms like ‘fake news,’ and I mean, ‘enemies of the people,’ have been popularized cyclically in society and in some of the most, you know, repressive and dangerous moments, you know, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, right? So, I think anytime we’re hearing language like that applied to, you know, a free press, or more broadly free expression, I think, I think we should be really worried.”
Ultimately, any assurances from the panelists that they “believe very strongly in free speech,” as Moulton said, turned out to be entirely false, especially when the term “public safety” was evoked.
“When I have a constituency that I’m trying to keep healthy, and I can’t get them to take a Covid vaccine because of misinformation that’s propagated on the internet, that’s where this becomes a much tougher, more difficult, bigger concern,” said Moulton.
Ironically, the Covid vaccine is a perfect example of why people like Moulton and his friends in big tech and the corporate press should not become the arbiters of truth. We now know that the Covid vaccine does not prevent transmission and that the CDC and FDA are even investigating it for negative side effects. Notably, the failure of the vaccine and the existence of its many side effects were not long ago deemed conspiracy theories and discussion of them was censored on social media.
In a similar vein, panelist and Internews CEO Jeanne Bourgault suggested that disinformation targeted at women should be taken down by social media platforms. “The platforms, when it comes to content moderation, do have a responsibility for trying to keep people safer, and they can do more,” said Bourgault, who argued that “gender disinformation,” meaning disinformation targeted at women, “can be very unsafe for a lot of people.”
The disinformation craze is not about truth; it’s about influence — who has influence over public discourse and, ultimately, who has influence over the public. Powerful CEOs and political leaders at the WEF have a vested interest in the disinformation hysteria because seizing digital control means regaining the gatekeeping powers they lost to independent journalists and the democratizing free web.
Passing “public safety” disinformation laws and putting censorship pressure on social media companies requires people to believe there is a real disinformation threat. Enter Stelter and the other partisan panelists, who are integral to convincing people that free speech is dangerous.
This is why it isn’t the first time Stelter has found himself in the spotlight of a “disinformation” discussion. Last April, Stelter was on a panel at the University of Chicago’s “Disinformation and the Erosion of Democracy” Conference, but at that conference, he received a challenge.
In a now-viral moment, College freshman Christopher Phillips asked Stelter about his former network’s journalistic ethics and history of spreading disinformation, such as the Russian collusion hoax, the Jussie Smollet hoax, and the Hunter Biden laptop cover-up. Stelter dismissed Phillip’s question as “a popular right-wing narrative.” The damage was done, though, and Stelter began trending on Twitter, with users mocking him for hypocritically discussing disinformation when he himself is a spreader of it.
As it turns out, pointing out the obvious — the truth — is the best way to combat the ongoing war on free speech that’s being advertised to us as a war on “disinformation.” If we walk away from this latest disinformation panel recalling, as Phillips did in April, how these “disinformation” fighters are actually disinformation purveyors, their sinister censorship proposals and fear tactics crumble.
Evita Duffy is a staff writer to The Federalist and the co-founder of the Chicago Thinker. She loves the Midwest, lumberjack sports, writing, and her family. Follow her on Twitter at @evitaduffy_1 or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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