Czar seeks ‘chilling effect’ on internet

by Lee Cary
American Thinker
October 2, 2009

meta-message: A term, widely credited to Gerard Nierenberg, used to refer to messages that are not directly delivered but emerge from between the written or spoken lines.

The meta-message of Cass Sunstein’s new book delivers a warning to those who would spread Internet “rumors” about Barack Obama.

The Regulatory Czar’s latest book is entitled Rumors. It purports to be about how rumors spread. To that end, it’s full of remarkable insights such as “Many of us accept false rumors because of either our fears or our hopes.” (p. 6) “Your willingness to believe a rumor will inevitably depend on the information with which you start.” (p. 19) “Sometimes people believe rumors because other people believe them.” (p. 28) Plus the shocking revelation that “Many rumors spread conspiracy theories.” (p. 7)

The subtitle of the book is “How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, What Can Be Done.” The answer to “What Can Be Done” harbors the book’s meta-message. For Sunstein, “part of the answer lies in recognizing that a ‘chilling effect’ on those who would spread destructive falsehood can be an excellent idea.” (p. 5) (His meta-message raises its head.)

Most of Sunstein’s examples of rumor sources are directed against the Right. “If the National Rifle Association spreads a rumor that a political candidate wants to ‘confiscate guns,’ or if an environmental organization spreads a rumor that someone believes that climate change is a ‘hoax,’ many people will be affected, because they tend to believe the National Rifle Association or the environmental organization.” (p.8) (Notice the upside down logic in the climate change example. In Sunstein’s world why would an environmental organization ever start a “hoax” rumor in the first place?)

His answer to the subtitle phrase “How Falsehoods Spread” includes those propagators who are narrowly self-interested. Like “When members of the Republican Party spread rumors about an appointee of a Democratic president, they hope to injure not only the reputation and the standing of the appointee but also that of the president and the Democratic party as a whole, thus promoting the interests of Republicans.” (p. 13) (Sounds like he might be writing about himself as a target of rumors.)

Another category of rumor propagators are the generally self-interested. Like when “Some right-wing websites liked to make absurd and hateful remarks about the alleged relationship between Barack Obama and the former radical Bill Ayers.” (p. 13) (“Former” radical?)..

…Sunstein occasionally defends someone from the Right against rumors, but not often. Those few examples read as being disingenuous. His balance clearly slants toward the offended Left…

…If Czar Sunstein is able to enact the “chilling effect” that he proposes in Rumors by the next general election, websites like the American Thinker could become regular targets of retraction demands from the Left, and face the threat of fines for spreading what the Regulatory Czar defines as “rumors.”

Read the entire article here.

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