A critique of Pozen’s critique of the marketplace of ideas

My colleague David Pozen, a law professor at Columbia University, recently wrote this essay on “the problem of lies and deception in the contemporary mass public sphere.” (Hat tip: Brian Leiter.) To the point, Professor Pozen critiques the “marketplace of ideas” metaphor, claiming that there is no empirical evidence for the proposition that a more open marketplace of ideas leads people away from falsity and toward truth. Professor Pozen writes: “We have no basis in evidence or experience to predict that increasing the quality or quantity of true speech on the Internet will reliably neutralize false speech or inculcate true beliefs in society.”

So, if the marketplace of ideas metaphor is just wishful thinking (although, for what it’s worth, Pozen is only able to muster up two obscure law review articles, a 2018 paper by Philip M. Napoli and a 2010 essay by Frederick Schauer, in support of this conclusion), what is to be done? How can we limit the salience and spread of false speech on the Internet?

For his part, Professor Pozen proposes three “solutions” — countermeasures, I might add, that are far worse than the supposed problem he is trying to cure. Among other things, Pozen wants Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook to (1) prioritize authoritative news sources, (2) downrank or remove deceptive content, or (3) impose penalties on serial purveyors of harmful lies. In other words, Pozen favors censorship and wants us to place more of our trust in Big Tech algorithms. (Don’t just take my word for it; scroll down to paragraph six of his essay for yourself.)

Sigh. The problem with Professor Pozen’s approach to misinformation is that, as Frank Ramsey taught us almost 100 years ago, the truth about any given proposition is not always a binary or all-or-nothing entity. Instead, truth is often probabilistic. That is why I reject out of hand Pozen’s misguided and draconian call for more censorship and more penalties. Instead of trusting Big Tech to be less evil, why not recreate an actual marketplace of ideas by allowing people to place bets on the truth or falsity of contested propositions? That is precisely what I propose in my forthcoming paper “The Gödel Conspiracy“!

To conclude, Pozen himself acknowledges in the closing paragraph of his essay the need for “greater epistemic humility” and how it is “more difficult than ever to secure broad agreement as to what counts as misinformation.” Agreed! And that is why betting markets in fake news and disputed conspiracy theories would be far better than censorship.

The marketplace of ideas | Eddie Playfair

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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4 Responses to A critique of Pozen’s critique of the marketplace of ideas

  1. Pingback: Critique of Benkler’s magical thinking | prior probability

  2. Pingback: Review of Kapczynsky (part 1 of 2) | prior probability

  3. Pingback: Three-headed monsters? A critique of Kapczynsky’s Internet-regulation proposals | prior probability

  4. Pingback: Global reply to Pozen, Benkler, and Kapczynsky: the optimal level of misinformation is not zero | prior probability

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