On Tuesday, Politico‘s Morning Cybersecurity brief had a couple interesting items related to cybersecurity and fake news. We’re seeing an increasing number of stories out of Germany, France, the UK, and elsewhere about the potential threat of cyber attacks similar to the ones witnessed during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. From Politico:
FAKE NEWS: CYBER THREAT? — From our friends at Pro Europe Brief: Cybersecurity officials in Germany are working to combat fake news, a German cyber official told reporters Monday evening. “When fake news is being done by a machine and not by a person,” it becomes a cybersecurity
issue, said Arne Schönbohm, president of Germany’s national cybersecurity authority. American officials, wary of wading into a First Amendment fight, are generally hesitant to endorse government action against so-called fake news. But Schönbohm characterized the effort in technical terms. Social media companies, he noted, have the technology to identify and remove pornographic pictures, “but you cannot terminate that [someone] say[s] there has never been a Holocaust, something like that. It’s a challenge.”
German officials are working with U.S. intelligence officers ahead of the country’s September elections to bolster defenses against the kind of politically driven hacking that rocked the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Cyber attackers have stolen information from the German Parliament, Schönbohm said, but “up to now we haven’t seen that they are releasing any information.” Schönbohm confirmed he had seen the classified version of a U.S. intelligence report on what U.S. officials believe was a Russian-directed operation to undermine Hillary Clinton. “We have seen the report, we are still analyzing it. … What we are now doing is exchanging views regarding, on a more operational level, what is really behind it, and this is of course much more interesting,” he said. “We are not fighting against Russia, we are protecting our election,” Schönbohm added later.
I have noticed an uptick in the use of war metaphors to describe subversive information and fake news. Indeed, there is no shortage of stories these days claiming that fake news, social media, narrative, or some combination of those, has been “weaponized.”
But what are the implications of this kind of rhetoric? The quote above gives us a hint when it mentions the First Amendment implications of government action against fake news. I would say that the potential First Amendment impacts are even greater when we begin framing information more broadly (not just fake news) as a “weapon.” This potentially opens the door to restrictions on speech that might not have been countenanced otherwise.
But then again, maybe if information is a “weapon,” the Second Amendment will come into play?