Putting your money where your mouth is; punish the spread of false information

So one of my friends on Facebook posted another dubious article today; this time, it was about the alleged neuro-toxicity of Fluoride. The ‘source’ was quite poorly written, as usual, low on detail and high on emotive weasel-words; it made various dubious claims and even had the audacity to suggest you may want to make your own tooth paste!

As is often the case, it turned out that one simple Google search on this topic quickly revealed the entire contents of the aforementioned article to be devoid of truth, to put it mildly. As it happens, I know the person who posted it (she is an actual Friend, not just a name on Facebook), and she is one of the sweetest, friendliest, compassionate people I have ever met; we’re not dealing here with some barely literate imbecile, far from it.

I quickly replied with a more fact-based story elucidating the realities of Fluoride and its relation to cancer (ie. none) and left it at that, but something kept nagging me about this. I felt that,surely, (re) posting content like this ought not be something you can do with impunity. What if another of her friends, believing her to be just as nice and socially conscious as I do, would act upon the ‘information’ in the article she posted, and stopped using toothpaste, only to find herself one day with teeth needing thousands of Euro’s worth of dental work? Is posting such false nonsense not, in fact, deeply irresponsible and reckless?

I think it is time that we start holding people to account about what they post online, and make it possible to actually punish them in some form or another for doing so, if the information they propagate is demonstrably false. In particular if checking/verifying the veracity of content is indeed as simple as just doing 2 minutes of Googling. We’re not talking here about proving some complex theory where the jury is still out; disproving the claims in the ‘article’ mentioned is simple, easy and requires an astonishingly minor effort. Of course, one might say that anyone who wishes to act upon its contents ought to do the same, and while this may be true, in an ideal world such information would not be posted in the first place. The onus of proof (and the responsibility for it) ought to be on the person spreading the data.

And when I say ‘punish’, obviously, I don’t mean sending them off to some faraway re-education camp, or even to be sentenced by an actual court — it ought to be something like a traffic ticket, an amount that matters, but isn’t going to mess up the rest of your monthly spending. First you’d get a warning, maybe even two, but if you do it again, you can expect to be fined 50–100 Euro’s.

First and foremost, this is about stopping the mindless, often emotion-driven spread of false information, and taking responsibility for your actions online. It is about making people think before they post, imploring them to do their due diligence and making sure the story they are about to announce has at least a modicum of truth and accuracy. Needless to say, many posts would fall in a grey area, and some posts (like slander) are already illegal. But in a time where passing on information is as simple as a few taps of a finger, some motivation for accuracy ought to be established.

People spreading lies, pseudo-science and other nonsense are doing a disservice to humanity, and are a major contributor to ignorance, superstition and the persistence of false beliefs. It is time for those who do so to be held to account.

Todeljonen Hakvenassen

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