The former primetime host recently landed a fellowship at Harvard University. His panel event at the World Economic Forum, which supports the notion that private and public actors should routinely cooperate for desired political and social ends, asked prominent lawmakers and members of the media about the possibility of controlling purported misinformation online.
Stelter asked Arthur Sulzberger, the chairman of the New York Times Company, about the current state of disinformation since social networks began to feel “pressure” about monitoring content over the past several years. The executive compared condemnations of “fake news” as “enemies of the people,” phrases popularized by former President Donald Trump, as following the pattern of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. He called for “real sustained effort” from social media platforms and lawmakers to reject the phenomenon.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) likewise said that the Trump phenomenon “proved that lying works” as a political strategy. “Part of jumping on his bandwagon was buying into this game that you could just lie, and not only could you get away with it, but it might actually help your career.”
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourová described a “very broad exercise” in monitoring disinformation within the European Union and said that 90% of the requests for removals on Facebook come from government agencies.
Moulton said there is a “healthy concern” in the United States that European censorship goes “too far.”
“Yes, they are ahead of us, and they’re doing some smart things. But I know when I use the internet in Europe and I get all the warnings about cookies and whatnot, that actually makes me feel safer,” he said. “We also have a healthy concern that we are not going to be censored.”
Stelter countered that many Democrats have pressured social media companies over the past six years to “be stronger in content moderation.” Moulton responded that many lawmakers are uncomfortable when they see critical posts online but expressed a willingness to consider more censorship in cases such as vaccine misinformation.
“This concept of preserving public safety, even under the banner of free speech, is actually something that we have accepted for a long time,” he continued. “We get taught in grade school the concept of yes, you are allowed free speech, but not crying fire in a crowded theater.”
The panel comes as independent reporters continue to release emails and other internal company documents provided by Twitter CEO Elon Musk to chronicle federal law enforcement agencies policing content on the platform and asking executives to remove posts.
The latest release showed that staffers working for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote to Twitter “quite often” asking for posts to be removed. Another edition of the project indicated that agencies, particularly the FBI, contacted Twitter about the censorship of so many posts that employees congratulated each other in internal company communications for the “monumental undertaking” of reviewing the requests.