NDIAS Faculty Fellow Katlyn Carter has published an op-ed in the Washington Post, “What the 1798 Sedition Act Got Right — And What It Means Today.”
“Democracies are uniquely dependent on public opinion and trust, which makes the truth crucial to their function — and early Americans knew it,” Carter says. “The case of the Sedition Act reveals that the remedy to these problems cannot be to vest authority in any one body, especially the state, to decipher true from false. But allowing misinformation to proliferate in the name of absolute freedom of speech is also dangerous. Though there will never be a panacea, we can pursue other options. For one, our education system can equip people with critical thinking skills, media literacy and an understanding of the forces at work when people make truth judgments. Americans can inculcate an ethic of responsibly consuming and sharing information as a mark of good civic participation; holding each other to account for what we relay online needs to become a norm. Just as journalists eventually developed a code of ethics, there is also a place for editorial standards in our online media landscape developed through independent, nonpartisan and transparent processes. In the absence of these, the task of safeguarding the truth is functionally left up to profit-driven tech companies, which is no better a solution than that offered by the Sedition Act."