The Internet is one of the most amazing "public squares" that has ever existed. Free speech is abundant and chaotic on the Internet. The ossified model of centralized media dissemination and control has been disrupted by the decentralized model of the web 2.0 platform.
Of course, free speech means that sophists who care little for the pursuit of truth may have as much influence as those rhetors with unselfish motivations.
How this problem is governed tells us much about a society's underlying values.
The enlightenment model holds that individuals can be taught, through the Socratic method among other methodologies, to discern falsehoods, perhaps even discern truths. The enlightenment model governs through reason and argumentation. Although in practice we fall short of this ideal, enlightenment operates as a regulative ideal that can be upheld in law and policy.
Another approach to governance of the public square is propaganda, as most explicitly outlined by Edward Bernays and as exquisitely chronicled by Adam Curtis in his Century of the Self. I've posted quite often about the operations of propaganda.
A final approach is outright censorship through narrowing of allowable forms of communication.
I've argued in couple of blog-posts that a new regime is rising and it governs through security and represents censorship as critical for purging security risks from the public sphere.
This regime also demands that its own narratives be produced and disseminated to shape public opinion, a mandate codified legally in US H.R.5181 - Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act of 2016114th Congress (2015-2016), which simultaneously penalizes providers for “fake news” and promotes production and dissemination of government “fact-based” narratives to counter fake news that escapes the newly emerging filtering devices.
"Fake news" has been cast as a security risk and is now targeted for censorship (see my discussion here). The strategy of deployment of this new policy is the instrument of financial penalty for media platforms found responsible for failing to censor.
Up until today I wasn't sure how Fake News was actually being defined. But today I see that the definition of fake news is decided arbitrarily by sovereign powers.
Any narrative that deviates from the sovereign's "fact-based" version is now fake news. At least, that is what it looks like based on efforts to shut down Al Jazeera in Qatar by Saudi Arabia and its allies, a move that an anonymous Trump "official" described as "potentially" having US support:
Nicolas Parasie and Summer Said (2017, June 24-25). Arab States Issue Demands to Qatar. The Wall Street Journal (print edition): A7.Now why does Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the US, want to shut down Al Jazeera?
Saudi Arabia and other Arab staes boycotting Qatar have issued a list of severe demands to end the worst regional diplomatic crisis in years, telling their Persian gulf neighbor to close state broadcaster Al Jazeera, curb ties with Iran and end Turkey's military presence on its soil....
...The U.S., however, would be potentially supportive of calls to shut down Al Jazeera, the official said....
My guess is that Al Jazeera's unorthodox nature and strong appeal make it dangerous within the logic of the new security doctrine.
My analysis is consistent with the search results to my Google inquiry as to why Saudi Arabia hates Al Jazeera, as illustrated in the top result excerpted below:
Why Saudi Arabia Hates Al Jazeera So Much. NDTV, June 24, 2017, http://www.ndtv.com/world-news/why-saudi-arabia-hates-al-jazeera-so-much-1716358I am heartened to see that not all of the mainstream media is remaining silent about this attack against journalistic free expression:
If you want to understand why many Arab world leaders hate Al Jazeera, consider "Sharia and Life."
For years, the call-in show was one of the network's most popular, reaching tens of millions. Viewers would call in and pose their faith questions to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric and a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. People would ask all kinds of things: Is it okay to smoke during Ramadan? Does a female Palestinian woman have to wear a hijab while carrying out a suicide bombing?
Before Al Jazeera, a show like this would have been unusual in the Arab world, where media is tightly controlled. But the Qatari-owned network has a mandate to produce ambitious journalism on a wide range of subjects (some taboo). It offers, too, a broader range of opinions than most Arab media.
These qualities have made it the most popular network in the Middle East. It's also attracted a lot of enemies. Rulers in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt resent the station's broad reach and its willingness to rile up opposition. They don't like its Islamist bent, and they're angry that their populations are exposed to reporting critical of their regimes (and supportive of the Qatari agenda).
New York Times slams 'misguided attack on Al Jazeera'. June 21, 2017, Al Jazeera, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/06/nyt-saudi-arabia-led-misguided-attack-al-jazeera-170621193513866.htmlUnfortunately I don't have the link to the NYT editorial, although you can read more about the political context of this assault against Qatar here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/23/world/middleeast/qatar-saudi-arabia-al-jazeera.html?_r=0
New York Times condemns Saudi-led bloc's move to 'eliminate a voice that could lead citizens to question their rulers'.
The growing tendency toward sovereign censorship of information signifies the ossification of the enlightenment dream and with that goes any hope for a vibrant democracy.