I was going to write this as a kind of Swiftian "modest proposal" but it occurred to me, the longer I thought about it, that I am actually more serious about this than I thought.
Libel is still illegal, right? Is there also a law against intentional dissemination of false information? What about irresponsible dissemination of bad information? There should be, if you ask me.
What I think is this: there should be a fine for anyone who either intentionally or irresponsibly posts information that is not true or that falsely attributes statements to particular people. The ripples one bad post can cause can be very damaging if related to serious issues. They can also invalidate decision making in terms of things like voting.
Did Einstein really say what everyone wants to believe he did? It's too easy to put a quotation on a picture of the man and pass it off as truth.
But how often do we see memes of politicians with quotations under them (usually under an extremely unflattering picture) that they never said. The people that post these have no criteria other than the fact that they want to believe it because they already feel a certain way about the person in question.
Then ends do not justify the means when it comes to false attributions. I know it serves the purpose of a conservative to make us believe that a liberal said that he would vote for Karl Marx if he were alive; I know might bolster the liberal cause to make us believe that a conservative said that we should dig Burmese tiger traps to catch immigrant children and stop them from coming across the border, but, doing this is wrong. Period. It doesn't lead to discourse, it leads to brawling. It can even be seen as defamation in some cases, which is a crime.
So, how about a fine for false postings. A small one, just to make a point. Or, maybe, a period of Internet lock-out? Surely some computer egghead can come up with an electronic form of universal Internet block.
Am I totally serious? I dunno. I think there should be a consequence for handing out unresearched or intentionally false information.
It may seem strange that I, the constant proponent of individual free will would say this, but, you have to have rules; balance is essential.
When the first real police -- the "Copper Stars" -- were introduced in New York City in the 1840s, there were protests. The Copper Stars were called, by protesters, a "standing army" that would steal the civil liberties of the average citizen. Of course, most of the complainers were those who would lose lots of criminally acquired funds if the police took hold... (I've been reading about this, inspired by Lyndsay Faye's historical novel, The Gods of Gotham.)
Still, could you imagine New York City with no police at all? I love my freedom and I hate when cops get pushy and I think they should be brought to trial when they overstep their rights, but I sure feel better when I am on a lonely train platform at midnight in a big city and I see an officer standing there, too.
The Internet is the virtual Wild West. It is New York before police. How much regulation does it need? In the end, I guess I am not proposing anything concrete. I just want to raise a question and to point our that this new electronic frontier often allows and sometimes abets criminal activity. Libel is often one of them. Libel is a crime.
How do we deal with this?
At the very least, people need to consider the use of sites like Snopes and Quote Investigator before they pass something along as truth. Nothing good can come out of indiscriminate posting and posting lies intentionally is downright damaging and immoral.