On Thursday, September 20, the committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods (DOFs) put up a set of 22 recommendations which include both legislative and non-legislative measures. While not many details on concrete measures were given, the consensus agreed upon by the committee was a multi-pronged approach to stop the spread of DOFs. One key aspect included in the proposal was the view that the government should be granted powers to step in and subvert the spread of DOFs through the use of take-down powers or blocking access to certain sites. In addition, the proposed measures included targeting the monetary aspect of fake news sites, which may include legislation to prevent these sites from profiting off of digital advertising revenue from the spread of DOFs.
Also included in the report were recommendations to raise media literacy in schools while at the same time, proposing a fact-checker coalition formed by media organisations as a means of ensuring accurate journalism in the industry. Lastly, the report stressed the need for transparency among technology companies, recommending measures like the disclosure of sponsored content, which in all likelihood, would require legislation for the government to act on.
What does this mean for Free Speech?
It’s not that clear for now. As mentioned before, the recommendations put forth by the committee serves as a framework for the legislature to create new laws in thwarting DOFs. However, the select committee highlighted the need for calibrating these new laws to fit the circumstances of each DOF in order to avoid stifling free speech. At the same time, “checks and balances” would be required so as to ensure due process in any case.
While most of us can agree that the looming threat of disinformation campaigns is generally detrimental to society, the report left some of the most vital questions unanswered. For instance, a clear definition for the term “Deliberate Online Falsehood” was nowhere to be found in the text. What is a falsehood? Where do we draw the line? Who determines what is true or false? These questions are more important now than ever, as we live an age of information saturation where the line between fact and opinion grows ever more blurry.