This is, admittedly, a project fraught with peril. The line between enhanced rules and regulations for communication and the repressive abridgment of free speech can all too easily be transgressed, especially when the power to regulate falls into the wrong hands. In addition, such projects can easily backfire, as increasing regulation feeds conspiracy theories about government control and makes it easier than ever for populist firebrands to depict mainstream reporting and opinion as “fake news.” In the end, the most effective way to address the problem is to restrain the economic power of the companies and interests that profit most directly from populist attacks on epistemological authority, as well as the underlying distributions of power that have led to the current popular discontent.
But even as progressive forces work toward this long-term goal, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are not about to start moderating their opinions, and Facebook and Twitter are unlikely to do much to regulate themselves, no matter how much earnest criticism they receive in The New York Times. It is also time to start serious discussions about how to keep the immensely powerful communications forces unleashed in the past generation from immeasurably harming the public good. These are discussions to be entered into carefully, judiciously, moderately. But they are important to have. Far more important, it might be added, than placing bets on when Donald Trump hits the 10,000th lie of his presidency.