Sunday, 3 August 2014

It is not illegal to publish lies

Imagine an app which tells you when someone is lying, whether verbally or via the written word. 

At a deeper level it would parse any narrative or even a conversation and tell you if it has anything to say about the real world. In ambiguous situations it would parse linked references and comments to come up with some kind of consensus, although we know how dodgy consensus can be.

Yet suppose the app went a little further and learned your favoured sources, weighing its conclusions accordingly and adding a caveat to that effect. Maybe it could run on something such as Google Glass with a simple traffic light indicator for initial impressions - red, amber or green. Green? How’s that for irony?

A little fanciful perhaps, but the bits and pieces are coming together. Imagine what the security services must be up to already, reading all our emails, blogs and comments. Or try the BlaBlaMeter as a rather more down to earth example. Imagine how profoundly the app would affect everything from commerce to politics, from art to song lyrics to a history lecture. It would be a game changer like nothing we’ve ever seen before.

For example.
Some decades ago I read a review of Erich von Däniken’s book Chariot of the Gods? If you haven’t read it, the book purports to present evidence that alien beings visited Earth in ancient times, leaving traces of their visits. 

The book is trash and after I’d waded through it I recall one review which pointed out something which has stayed with me ever since – it is not illegal to publish lies. Not that I'm accusing von Däniken of anything but wholesome veracity you understand.

However, apart from certain fairly well defined circumstances such as libel, it’s not illegal to publish lies. In some cases it may be illegal to publish the truth, but that’s another issue.

Over the years, probably as a distraction from official lying, commercial advertisers have been made to ply their trade within a regulatory framework designed to weed out the more egregious lies. Oddly enough this is not the case with many other areas of life. Iraq and WMD for example.

For some reason it is perfectly okay for politicians, governments and NGOs to pump out material which is a farrago of lies and misinformation from start to finish. 

Would we have it otherwise though? I suspect not because free speech, such as it is, is far too precious for us to take any more risks, particularly regulatory risks. Perhaps a viable alternative to official truthfulness could be some kind of veracity app. The trouble is - it might work.


Demetrius said...

Commenting as the King of Ruritania......

A K Haart said...

Demetrius - actually I'm the King of Ruritania.