The mass media doesn’t distinguish between information and disinformation. The mass media system only distinguishes between information/noninformation, and information is information as far it’s concerned. Propaganda, fake news, hate speech, etc., circulate freely through the mass media without any regard for ethics, morality, or truth. Thus, if society has an interest in truth or facts, another system must come into play to make the information/disinformation distinction. And disinformation and noninformation are, of course, two very different things.

The legal system can observe the output of the mass media and make a distinction between legal information and illegal disinformation. If the information is libelous or violence-inciting, the legal system can mark that as illegal and allow the courts to take action. The legal system does this with mass media products such as child pornography. Or the educational system can make critical reading, critical thinking, or “media literacy” a competence that it teaches and tests. But we cannot expect the mass media to police itself in an ethical sense. The mass media, left to itself, knows nothing of ethics, morality, or justice. The same goes for the economy, science, or art. Justice is a legal principle–that’s all. So as the mass media gains influence via the Internet, the legal system cannot stand on the sidelines. The legal system has recourse to constitutions that protect freedom of the press and freedom of speech, but harmful disinformation does not have to be permitted, at least not without a fight.

None of this is meant to suggest that the law or any other system can control the mass media system. The mass media will continue to find ways to do what it has always done. The law can perturb the mass media, but the mass media will continue to carry out its operations. It will find cracks in any effort to control the flow of information.


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