Freedom of speech online is now being challenged as part of crackdown on a nebulous category called “misinformation.” “Misinformation” is defined so broadly that it includes opinion, conjecture, and speculation – the building blocks of free thought.
Hidden behind this wiggle-word “misinformation” is a whole host of normal mental activities that we use everyday, including abductive reasoning, in which we use limited information to reach a “most likely” conclusion. This kind of ad-hoc reasoning is so common, we don’t even think of it as a volitional act. It’s just what people do when they are “thinking out loud.”
If we are not allowed to speculate or make conjectures anymore online, then what is the point of the internet? Would Twitter just become a feed from the CDC and WHO websites? Would Facebook just be dry statistical data? Would personal websites like this one be issued cease and desist letters?
The whole point of these platforms is to express opinions. Platforms like Twitter are nothing but opinion and speculation for the vast majority of accounts. This is simply because most people are not officials or credentialed experts, and so anything they post, right or wrong, is merely opinion and speculation.
This should be obvious. Nobody connects to Twitter (or any other such platform) to get factually correct information. They use these platforms to share their own opinions and speculations, and to interact with the opinions and speculations of others.
It strikes me thus that all efforts to purge the social media platforms of “misinformation” is actually a crack-down on opinion. The “misinformation” censors are really interested in restricting opinion and speculation, not by rogue scientists or quack doctors, but by normal people.
There is already a legal framework for restricting speech by experts, such as doctors, who give dangerous medical advice. Not so with your next door neighbor who posts his opinion on Twitter. He is not a medical doctor, and if you take his opinion as medical advice, you’re the fool.
As with most cases of censorship, the real motivation appears to be controlling what opinions can be expressed, and thus controlling thinking. The debate around censorship has become focused on freedom of speech, where the verity or falseness of information is in doubt. But this is a different issue from what is really at stake — the right to speculate.