“We’re going to have to figure out how we rein in our media environment so that you can’t just spew disinformation and misinformation,” Ocasio-Cortez told her followers in a video message. “It’s one thing to have differing opinions, but it’s another thing entirely to just say things that are false.”
The road to speech restrictionism is paved with political rhetoric about protecting the proletariat from falsehoods. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán last year cited the potentially deadly dangers of “fake news” while ramming through a law punishing coronavirus misinformation with up to five years in prison. Holocaust denial is illegal in more than a dozen European countries, in the name of safeguarding Jewish minorities. Donald Trump, before he was elected president, vowed to “open up our libel laws” as a remedy for “negative and horrible and false articles.”
Thankfully, Trump’s implausible threat—there are no federal laws governing libel, for starters—foundered on the same rocks that will thwart any Ocasio-Cortez attempt to have the feds arbitrate falsehoods and “rein in” free expression. America’s legal and cultural speech traditions are the strongest on the planet, and the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has been vigorous in defending the First Amendment.
Add to that legal roadblock a more temporal impediment to Ocasio-Cortez’s policy agenda: Legislation in the 117th Congress will be shaped much more by the most conservative Democrats in the 50–50 Senate than it will by the loudest socialists in the House.
But that doesn’t mean AOC-style censorship will be cauterized in the post-Trump era. To the contrary.
The awful events of January 6 accelerated trends in left-of-center circles, particularly within media and technology companies. Shocked at the sight of a violent mob lending street muscle to a lame-duck president’s conspiracy theory, journalists, academics, and social media companies seemed at once to agree on a two-pronged strategy: using the most maximally negative adjectives to describe the country’s still sizable Trump rump and banishing that bloc’s most deplorable figures from every platform within reach.
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