Is the proliferation of “fake news” and conspiracy theories a threat to democracy? If so, how should we deal with such dangerous ideas and falsehoods? Broadly speaking, there are two general approaches to this problem: one is the Mark Zuckerberg solution, i.e. some combination of censorship (content moderation) and secret computer algorithms; the other is the Elon Musk method, i.e. laissez faire principles and free speech absolutism (everyone is free to post whatever they want).
Which approach do you prefer? Zuckerberg’s or Musk’s? For my part, I won’t dwell on the pros and cons of either approach, except to make the following general observation: neither the Zuckerberg solution nor the Musk method is designed to help us distinguish truth from lies in a reliable manner. One big problem with the Zuckerberg/censorship approach, for example, is that we cannot always determine ahead of time which conspiracy theories are true and which are false, while the main problem the Musk/free speech approach is that most people on the Internet are ill-informed, ignorant, or just flat-out prejudiced. To the point, if anyone can post anything, will the truth eventually emerge from such a large cacophony of voices, or will the truth just get crowded out?
With this background in mind, here is where my proposed third-way solution comes into play. Simply put, instead of trusting our Big Tech overlords (the Zuckerberg approach) or resorting to “anything goes” as a magical panacea (the Musk method), why not allow people to place bets on conspiracy theories and fake news? That is, why not create an actual “truth market” for contested ideas? (See here, for example.) I will further describe the details of my proposed truth market in a future post.