Elizabeth Warren recently proposed rules to reform corporate governance. The new rules remove corruption, and ensure a voice in corporate decision making for all parties who have an interest in those decisions. In a speech at the National Press Club, she said, “People don’t trust their government to do right because they think government works for the rich, the powerful and the well-connected, and not for the American people. And here’s the kicker: They’re right.” She argues that under her regulatory regime, government will do right, and so will corporations.
I wonder why we do not apply the same reasoning to news platforms. If we do not trust news sources to tell us the truth, why do we not regulate them? If government can make business corporations be open and truthful, why can it not do the same for information organizations? If we cannot have confidence in the information we receive, how can our democracy function?
News organizations and platforms serve a public purpose, so we ought to treat them as such. Corporate governance furnishes tested rules that ensure honesty, thoroughness, and accountability. First, legislation must define an information organization, so we know the regulatory agency’s jurisdiction. Rules would apply to any person or group that dispenses information the person or group claims to be true, or where falsehood harms a compelling public interest. If people consume the information because they think it is true, or if they suffer harm because it is false, the organization qualifies.
Next, legislation must define powers of the Information Protection Agency. The new agency would:
- Monitor all information sources.
- Develop standards to distinguish false information from true information.
- Process reports or complaints of false information.
- Enforce all rules that pertain to false information.
- File preventive injunctions against dispensers of false information.
As for publicly held corporations, information organizations must register with the government. Only organizations qualified to dispense information receive permission to do so. This qualification process restores confidence for information consumers, and protects them from purveyors of false information. As a practical matter, government needs to know which dispensaries exist, and where, in order to monitor them.
To maintain a close relationship between information organizations and the IPA, organizations must file quarterly reports to summarize information dispensed, and certify its truthfulness. They would do so on Form 1119-AD, with appendices. Cognizant regulatory authorities audit the summaries, and compare summaries filed during the same quarter, to maintain contemporaneity of sources. If serious discrepancies among information dispensed become apparent, the IPA chair opens an investigation.
The last, perhaps most important piece is to create and train a corps of licensed information auditors and regulators, to sort the enormous amount of information that flows through the body politic. Twitter and Facebook alone dispense more information than even the IRS could handle. Licensed auditors would need knowledge of the latest technology to spot sources, foreign and domestic, that need more attention. IPA would investigate those most suspect, in the same way SEC investigates cases of insider trading.
This regulatory regime would ensure honest outcomes for honest people:
- You can believe what you read in the newspapers again.
- No more bots planting fake news on Facebook.
- Conspiracy theorists beware: speculation disguised as fact will not fly.
- Licensed fact checkers perform audits and certify truthfulness.
- No more arguments at dinner about who’s right.
- Textbooks in our schools no longer subject to controversy.
- Government bodies meet the same standards of truthfulness as everyone else.
- Bloggers, tweeters, trolls, and others liable to use language carelessly get careful.
- Teachers, politicians, writers, public speakers, news reporters, video producers: all information dispensers now know not to lie, distort, dissemble, or practice any kind of deceit.
- Citizens, children, youth, and all ages trust our public and private institutions again.
We need to feel safe in our public spaces again. We need our children to feel safe. False information threatens our sense of security, as well as foundations of our free institutions. If we cannot eliminate those who manipulate information for their own purposes, and to our disadvantage, the whole structure could fall.
If you think this proposal would work, please do not write to your representative in Congress. Your representative might try to enact it.