Breaking fake news

The bizarre "anti-disinformation" initiative unveiled by the Spanish government this week is ostensibly intended to protect the population from foreign interference in election campaigns. If that is indeed the actual justification of the "Procedure for Intervention Against Disinformation" (as it's officially called), then it's unnecessary; but if, as seems likely, this procedure will be put to all kinds of other uses, it should be opposed, not endorsed, as it is by the EU.

The Spanish government characterises the spread of fake news as a form of attack, particularly if caused by foreign countries during election campaigns. Perhaps it is, but it's also one that consumers of journalism and social media-generated content are - or at least should be - able to withstand and combat themselves.

We're all aware that there's a lot of rubbish out there these days - a lot of hysteria and scaremongering, opinion and speculation passed off as truth, a lot of white noise, especially in the self-reinforcing echo chambers of Twitter and Facebook. But it should be left to individuals to decide and judge for themselves what constitutes disinformation and fact, what they find dubious or persuasive, without the supervision of politicians.

In any case, whose job is it to decide exactly what constitutes "misleading" information or news, what counts as sufficient "verification" of a fact or what makes one viewpoint more justifiable than another? Will journalists, academics and independent institutions relevant to the particular case be consulted in this tireless battle against keyboard warriors? No. The Spanish government is taking this task solely upon itself.

The idea of Pedro Sánchez's administration ceaselessly scouring the web for material deemed "verifiably false or misleading" (according to part of the European Commission's definition of "disinformation") is, frankly, absurd - yet another instance of its apparently limitless desire to meddle in people's lives.

The whole issue of fact vs opinion, disinformation vs information lies - or should lie - well outside of any government's legitimate remit. This is especially true in Spain's case, where it's hard to believe that the Socialist-led coalition won't use this procedure, at least occasionally, to monitor or denounce media coverage that departs from its stance on controversial issues, Covid being one of them. No one needs a government to waste its time on such tasks.

The Spanish government's definition of "fake news" is also so broad that it could include practically all forms of political campaigning. What party of late - whether right or left, here, in the UK or the USA, for example - hasn't behaved in a way "that seeks to influence society with self-serving and spurious aims"? Sanchez's supposed concern over interference in public opinion is spurious in the extreme: after all, this initiative reveals his intention to do precisely that.