December 2017

“Fake news” is the buzzword of our time. Yet what is the actual power of fake news? To what degree does it permeate our information networks, and with what effects? What are the remedies, legal or otherwise, that should be brought to the problem? And will we ever agree on a set of reliable sources or reliable facts?

Our lead essayist this month is Will Rinehart, who serves as Director of Technology and Innovation Policy at the American Action Forum. Rinehart urges caution: Fake news was less influential in the 2016 election than was initially reported, and even social media itself isn’t as important as either its critics or the social media platforms themselves may want to claim.

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Lead Essay

  • We expect that voters should be well-informed, and to that end the press is essential. Yet reconciling democracy and expertise is no easy task, and examples of the press behaving badly seem all too common, particularly in the form of fake news. Yet Rinehart argues that concern over fake news may be overblown, and he suggests that our democracy’s real problems lie elsewhere.

Response Essays

  • John Samples draws on Thomas Emerson’s Toward a General Theory of the First Amendment to argue that social media is doing a reasonably good job at satisfying four widely shared values. He argues that it is doing particularly well in contrast to the television monoculture that preceded it.

  • Mike Godwin argues that social media is still in its infancy, and it is much premature to declare it “broken.” He adds that non-political expressions of sociability should not be dismissed as valueless; they have great value both in themselves and as part of the process by which a republic is formed and perpetuated.

  • Kate Klonick argues that social media has empowered individuals to create a democratic culture that is much larger and more powerful than just what they do at the polls. Social media allows grassroots activism to work in new and important ways that don’t always aim at changing the way people vote, but that do change society all the same.

Coming Up

Conversation through the end of the month.

Related at Cato

Cato Unbound: Truth, Lies, and Authenticity in Politics, March 2016

Cato Unbound: Algorithms, Fairness, and Freedom, August 2017