No Food for Thought

Free Speech, Freedom to Exploit the Poor

admin Friday December 31, 2021

Democratic societies value free speech. But how much free speech is valued varies in each society.

The USA is probably the greatest champion of free speech, to the point where it no longer has a value, but rather a holy status, which may only envy the right to self-defence. It may then not be a great surprise to notice that the public in the USA has become so misinformed. The right to speak freely cannot come without the condemnation to be misinformed by unimputable actors.

One famous source of profitable misinformation is advertisement. But advertisement promoting the health benefits of cocaine drinks and - cough - cigarettes - cough - is long gone, so can the advertisement industry remain such a problem today?

The poorest half of the world's population may only possess 2% of global wealth, but it still earns more than 8% of income. That may not be much, but the advertisement industry cannot neglect that revenue source... in particular when its low education is taken into account. If the public is easy to disinform in the USA, imagine the situation in the Third World. With a much higher informational vulnerability, the Third World can offer a more interesting benefit-to-cost ratio for disinformation than the First World, in particular if these countries struggle to control misinformation.

Flagship corporations of the First World like Facebook and Alphabet could not be blind to such opportunities, and have been exploiting these flaws for years. Oh, not directly. The burden of creating (or even just plagiarizing) disinformation is left to clickbait operators and other disposable publishers. Tech giants do nothing more than funding them and pretending ignorance. Until sometimes opening an eye when the resulting chaos threatens their own country and shareholders.

The first defence again disinformation should be to create and promote quality information. But given that nuance and complexity will never be as inflammatory and evocative as disinformation can be, regulation of the information market is also necessary at some point. When an entity uses a business model allowing it to profit from disinformation, the state must ensure that minors are protected. And unless that's enough, adult victims - just like cigarette smokers - need to be warned about the threat disinformation consumption poses to their health. Properly disincentivizing disinformation won't be easy, but there's no way around such a market failure.

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