We've been hearing a lot about so called "fake news" lately. No doubt, that in the 21st century when information travels around the world in nanoseconds and anyone with access to a computer (like us) can disseminate information under the pretense of authenticity, the climate is ripe for misinformation. (Contrast that with the early days of our nation when updates on the French Revolution would take months to reach our shores.)
As many hard core partisans choose to live in an echo chamber that suits their personal tastes, there is often little incentive to stop the spread of obviously false -- and at times vicious -- information. In and of itself, that presents a real danger to keeping all of our citizens adequately informed. In some regards, we have gone from an ill informed electorate to a misinformed electorate.
There is a flip side to the proliferation of "fake news" which is the defense mechanism to quickly label any story we disagree with as "fake." Therein lies the real danger to our fundamental freedoms. When the President talks about retribution and changing the libel laws, we should all take pause. Think our freedom can't be threatened?
In the early days of our budding government when the nation was still struggling with defining the scope of the freedoms we take for granted, a combination of four laws were passed that became known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. These bills increased the time it took for immigrants to become citizens, granted broad powers to the President to deport or imprison non-citizens from an enemy country or otherwise deemed dangerous, and even criminalized statements that were critical of the federal government and determined to be false by a judiciary appointed by the President. These laws were passed under the Federalist term of our second President John Adams. The Sedition Act which allowed for the prosection of critical statements of the government (while providing for the truth to be a defense) was widely used by the Adams administration to prosecute newspapers friendly to the often contrary views of Vice President Jefferson. The fundamental bedrock freedom of the press that we take for granted today literally hung in the balance in the early days. Ironically, the resistance to the Sedition Act helped Jefferson defeat Adams in his bid for a 2nd term. Under Jefferson, the Act expired. This 200 year plus episode should still serve as a cautionary tale for our citizens to remain vigilant in the protection of our freedoms and the democratic process.