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There is 1 comment on Could Taxes Deter the Spread of Harmful Fake News?

  1. A few readers have reached out to object that the tax proposal sounds totalitarian! I’m delighted they’re willing to engage and they deserve a thoughtful response. Fake news is a hard problem so here are design elements that can help.

    1) The first point is to recognize disinformation as a form of pollution in your news feed just like carbon monoxide in your air supply or dioxin in your water stream. And, because fake news generates engagement, social platforms aren’t sufficiently motivated to clean the contaminants. Polluters need incentives to stop passing their poison.

    2) A good solution should scale. Facebook generates 4 petabytes of data each day. Like testing for pollutants in air or water, you don’t need to fact check everything. Just take a statistical sample to check the levels of contaminants. Want 90%, 95% or 99% accuracy? Simply take a bigger sample.

    3) Bias *is* a critical issue. One of the best ways to reduce bias is to separate the rules that define fake news, from the adjudication of fake news, and from enforcing penalties for fake news the same way we separate legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government. Critically, government should *not* be the certification authority but neither should Facebook. Both have too much potential for self-interest. We might need new organizations, more like and Snopes, that are as independent as possible for certification.

    4) A good solution adapts easily to tailored goals. Suppose you want to police (some) disinformation but not encumber free speech at all. There’s a solution for that too. In that case, apply the penalty narrowly to disinformation spread by foreign governments. They don’t have a citizen’s right to speak and shouldn’t be meddling in our elections anyway. Such a narrow intervention would reduce disinformation from foreign adversaries but have no effect on citizens themselves.

    For reference, the tax on foreign fake news pollution is only one of four separate ideas for fighting fake news. It happens to be the most controversial and so it’s the most fake newsworthy :-). A full paper, “The Problem of Fake News” will be available in July 2019.

    I don’t claim these proposals are perfect. Most existing solutions have serious drawbacks. I’d be interested in any better solutions you or others care to share.


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