Free speech and the struggle against misinformation ahead of 2020 election


Last week, The New York Post published a potentially damaging story about Hunter Biden, son of the Democratic presidential nominee. Based on emails, The Post said, were provided by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and originally harvested from a laptop computer left in a Delaware repair shop. There were enough questions about the authenticity of the emails that most mainstream media declined to publish the story, but it's the kind of content that Khun spread like wildfire on Social media. In a remarkable move Twitter on Wednesday Band users from sharing links to the story because it said the emails may have been hacked and contained private information. It reversed course two days later after Republicans accused Twitter of censorship. But the episode illustrates a question our guest, Emily Bazelon, has been thinking about in an age when questionable, Perhaps even fabricated content can sweep through the digital world unchecked. Does our traditional commitment to unfettered free speech still serve democracy. And the cover story for this week's New York Times Magazine, Basil on surveys the impact that lies and conspiracy theories sometimes promoted by foreign actors can have on our political discourse. And she explores how other countries think differently about free speech and its relationship to a healthy democracy. Emily Bazelon is a graduate of the Yale Law School and a journalist. She's a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine and the Truman Capote fellow for Creative Writing at Yale Law School. She's also the author of two books. She joins us from her home in New Haven, Connecticut. Emily Bazelon welcome back to fresh air. Thanks so much for having me you open your piece with a story that began making the rounds some months back, among right wing voices on the Internet that there was a plan by the forces of Joe Biden to stage a coup to take over the government in connection with the November election. First of all, what was the basis of this claim? Great. So this is ahh concocted claim and the sort of colonel at the center of it was a project called the Transition Integrity Project, a group of about 100 academics and journalists and pollsters and former government officials and former campaign the staff staffers. They started meeting over the summer to kind of game out various scenarios for the November election, and so they were basically testing American democracy in the event that President Trump wins in the event that vice President Biden winds To see in various scenario is what could happen. And in the event, there's a contestant result in a long, nasty count. Yes, exactly especially in the event if there's a contestant result in litigation and other possibilities, and so in one of their several scenarios, Biden wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College. And so in that hypothetical case they imagined the Democrats would get desperate. And they might consider encouraging California and the Pacific Northwest to threaten to secede in exchange for pressuring Republicans to expand the size of the Senate. So Rosa Brooks, who was one of the organizers of this project, She's a law professor at Georgetown. She published an essay where she mentioned this threat to succeed in one sentence in an essay in The Washington Post. On the next day, you see someone named Michael Anton's, a former national security adviser to President Trump. He has an article called The Coming CU Question. Mark and based on Rosa Brooks is characterization of what the transition integrity project was doing. He starts saying that Democrats are laying the groundwork for a revolution and then you see that article take off in extremist online communities. There is AH podcast maker named Dan Bongino, who's a big trump supporter. He makes videos about it. One of them has the tag. They are telling you what they are going to do exclamation point his videos pull in millions of views. Then you see the story. My great toe, a right wing website called Revolver News Revolver. News starts to spin up the idea that Norm Eisen, who participated in the transition Integrity project and is a longtime Democratic lawyer in Washington. That he's at the center of this supposed coup. And from there, Tucker Carlson feature someone talking about this concocted made up story on his show. And then you see it just go viral on social media and get picked up by lots of groups, including, like a county Republican organization in Oregon, So it is Perfect kind of story because it pulls in both traditional media in the form of Fox and also social media. And then you see President Trump get involved. He tweets in praise of Revolver news, and then he tweets quote the November 3rd election result may never be accurately determined, which is what some want. And that's a kind of typical dark, slightly vague, foreboding kind of warning from President Trump that further perpetuates this coup narrative. And then Trump later retreat. Someone talking about a coup with regard to Nancy Pelosi. So you see from this hypothetical project that was really meant to be a kind of academic exercise about the election. This whole sat of conspiracy theories on the right that get a lot of play in the media on social media, and then from the president

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