Boston University Professor Suggests Taxing ‘Fake News’

An audience member holds a fake news sign during a President Donald Trump campaign rally in Washington Township, Mich., Saturday, April 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya

A Boston University professor suggests taxing — as well as suspending the social media account — of those who spread “fake news.” The professor insists that he does not want to regulate free speech, but rather, punish people for the damage caused by their free speech.

Boston University (BU) professor Marshall Van Alstyne suggests taxing those who promote “fake news” stories, according to a recent BU research article, which adds that the professor claims he is not seeking to censor speech, but rather, hold those accountable for the damage their speech creates.

“What you’re doing is you’re taxing the damage. You’re not taxing the speech,” insists professor Van Alstyne, who says that in addition to taxation, fake news can also be curbed through temporarily suspending social media accounts, or limiting the number of people who can follow the “liars.”

“This puts the incentive back on the liar to stop lying,” said Van Alstyne, “You don’t necessarily have a right to amplification. And if [the information you’re spreading is] provably false, you’re not going to be amplified.”

“It’s not censoring free speech, rather it’s punishing them for the harm that their free speech causes,” states the BU research piece, “In effect, this takes away the liar’s metaphorical megaphone.”

When it comes to defining “fake news,” Van Alstyne mentioned the 2016 presidential election and Brexit as a few examples in which fake news was implicated.

“The simplest definition [of fake news] is information that causes harm at scale,” said Van Alstyne, “Fake news may be implicated in the last presidential election; fake news may be duplicated in Brexit. We see it in [the argument against vaccines]. This is such an enormous social problem with real social consequences.”

The BU piece adds that the recent measles outbreak in the United States was in part due to the spread of fake news in the form of anti-vaccination literature on the Internet, and that as a result, a county in New York recently declared a state of emergency, and banned un-vaccinated children from public spaces.

BU School of Law professor Jay D. Wexler acknowledges that government can prosecute individuals who directly call for violence, but nonetheless, still finds the notion of taxing fake news problematic.

“The government can prosecute people for making threats or inciting people to illegal activity,” acknowledged Wexler. “It’s clever to try to divorce the harm from the speech,” added the law professor, “but how do you know some independent body won’t determine at some point that what you say is causing harm? It’s still [leaving that distinction up to] some government actor, even if it was a federal judge who is presumably not influenced by politics.”

And therein lies the question: who would be in charge of regulating “fake news”? Who gets to decide the definition of fake news, as well as the amount of damage it has done to the populace?

It is no secret that not all fake news is considered equal. While anti-vaccination literature falls under scrutiny for aiding in a recent measles outbreak, material that promotes socialism — an ideology responsible for the deaths of roughly 100 million people in the last 100 years — is circulated on the Internet, and at times, even at the hands of U.S. representatives.

Professor Van Alstyne did not immediately respond to Breitbart News’ inquiry as to whether — under this new rule — the mainstream media would be held accountable for the damage resulting from multiple years’ worth of uncritical reporting and widespread promotion of the Russia Collusion Hoax.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, on Parler at @alana, and on Instagram.


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