Google and Facebook Are Utilities. It’s Time They Act Like it.
We need to protect the truth in a technological atmosphere where it’s so easily manipulated
One of the great achievements of civilization has been the gradual improvement in physical security for humans. Most of us can expect to conduct our daily lives without constant fear of injury and death. Article 3 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
I would like to suggest that everyone should also have the right to mental security — the right to live in a largely true information environment. Humans tend to believe the evidence of our eyes and ears. We trust our family, friends, teachers, and (some) media sources to tell us what they believe to be the truth. Even though we do not expect used-car salespersons and politicians to tell us the truth, we have trouble believing they are lying as brazenly as they sometimes do. We are, therefore, extremely vulnerable to the technology of misinformation.
The right to mental security does not appear to be enshrined in the Universal Declaration. Articles 18 and 19 establish the rights of “freedom of thought” and “freedom of opinion and expression.” One’s thoughts and opinions are, of course, partly formed by one’s information environment, which, in turn, is subject to Article 19’s “right to… impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” That is, anyone, anywhere in the world, has the right to impart false information to you.
Democracies have placed a naive trust in the idea that the truth will win out in the end, and this trust has left us unprotected.
And therein lies the difficulty: Democratic nations, particularly the United States, have for the most part been reluctant — or constitutionally unable — to prevent the imparting of false information on matters of public concern because of justifiable fears regarding government control of speech. Rather than pursuing the idea that there is no freedom of thought without access to true information, democracies seem to have placed a naive trust in the idea that the truth will win…