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On “fake news” and “hate speech”

Biological viruses

In biology, a virus carries genetic information that can be inserted into a cell and disrupt its operation.

The first disruption induced by the virus involves reprogramming the cell to replicate itself. These new viruses will infect other neighbouring cells. Incidentally, the infected cell no longer functions properly and eventually dies.

To protect a cell, one can try to isolate it in a sanitized environment. When it comes to complex multi-cellular organisms, removing all viruses is impossible.

The best alternative that has been found is vaccination: it consists of teaching the body to defend itself on its own, by voluntarily exposing it to a weakened variant of the virus, just like a workout. Later, in the presence of the real virus, the body will have developed its immune defences, reject the virus and no longer be infected.

Informational viruses

As long as anyone can write anything, there is obviously a heap of excesses. We often talk about “fake news” and “hate speech”. While there is nothing new about these phenomena, the Internet has brought them a whole new dimension: a much broader scope, and the illusion of anonymity that disinhibits speech.

In response, public authorities generally favour the legislative response: ban specific speech, punish the offenders. This type of response poses two democratic problems:

  • By protecting the population in this way, we infantilise it: in a universe of filtered information, people’ critical faculties fade, and the whole system becomes vulnerable to any accidental misinformation.
  • Once the measures of censorship have been implemented and accepted, authorities can easily silence any protest, no matter how legitimate, on the pretence of preserving the public order.

The alternative lies in the education of everyone to the critical sense, so that citizens can be trusted to exercise their discernment between the true and the false, and to render them immune to fake news and hate speech.

Education is the only way to preserve a true democracy of free and enlightened citizens, not necessarily agreeing, but able to debate. “Violence is the last refuge of incompetence”, so to avoid violence, let’s improve skills.

Illustration in this short video.

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