The "Notary Internet"

I (along with anyone else who respects the Constitution) say that the best cure for bad speech is more speech, not censorship. However, I frequently hear a whiny retort to that: With the internet, things are different. There is some merit to that argument, since a lie can be spread worldwide in a mere click of a button – splaying falsehoods from Topeka to Taipei. Under those conditions, what is the victim of such a falsehood to do?

Jon Garfunkel makes a very good case for a fascinating way to combat this — and he doesn’t call for any ill-conceived new torts, nor does he call for a repeal to Section 230. Instead, Garfunkel seeks to harness the power of the free market to correct irregularities in the marketplace of ideas. He calls for a nonprofit to create a system whereby people who post information (especially responses to false information) under penalty of perjury.

There would also be a nominal fee (paid to the nonprofit) for filing notarized statements; they would be greater than zero, but less than court & legal fees. In addition, the system could begin to develop an arbitration process for handling the online torts of defamation and privacy exposure if the injured party does not want to pursue it in the courts.

The oath is accepted as a test for sworn truth because there are penalties for lying: the crime of perjury. It’s not so clear that frank truth has a similar correcting mechanism. Neither Wikileaks nor AutoAdmit (nor many other online communities of discussion) appear to have any regular processes for evaluating the claims made on their site for truthfulness; everything is to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. It’s possible they get at the truth, but it may ultimately be irrelevant to their success. (source)

What a great idea. I can see a few classes of people who wouldn’t support it: The whiny PC types, they want censorship of anything that could possibly make anyone “feel bad.” Unethical lawyers wouldn’t like it either – it would diminish their ability to suck legal fees from whipping their clients into a frenzy. The extremely wealthy and powerful wouldn’t like it either — since it would essentially destroy the ability to file a SLAPP suit.

The rest of us would benefit from unfettered free speech with a verifiable right of reply.

Mr. Garfunkel, please come on down and accept your First Amendment Bad Ass award!