The fundamental precept of libertarianism is best summed up with the phrase:
All things being equal, …
Of course, few if any things are truly equal.
Libertarianism – as I understood it – is predicated on other secondary assumptions, assuming government doesn’t tell them to do these things:
- People have enlightened self-interest
- People are responsible for their actions and expect others to be
- People are predictably selfish
- People are rational actors
- There’s someone else who will fill in the gap: churches, charities, non-profits, and the like where enlightened self-interest, predictable selfishness, and acting rationally fail
- Open information is best and will help people be enlightened self-interest rational actors
That idea, that open information is best, feels right. It should be right, all things being equal.
Things are not equal. Just like the idea that there are markets in everything, there is gaming of everything. Come up with rules and someone will not only find ways around them but will frame their activity as right and true.
Many people are disturbed that Duck Duck Go will down-rank Russian disinformation on their search engine. They are declaring that DDG is dead to them.
I have no problem with this. I will keep an eye on down-ranking, but in this case I think it’s the right thing to do.
First, down-ranking means that the search results for the disinformation will still be there but maybe not at the top. So sources of bad information will have a hard time to manipulate algorithms to get their bad data at the top.
Second, there’s the idea that all users – in this case, all people – are the above-mentioned rational actors and can tell disinformation from fact. They can’t. See the amount of recent disinformation around Barack Obama’s birth certificate AND HE’S BEEN OUT OF OFFICE FOR FIVE+ YEARS. DDG is not preventing misinformation from being available but is not giving it equal weight to credible data.
Third, DDG’s announcement seems to assume the imperfect knowledge of most if not all users. That’s not wrong: We’re all variously imperfectly knowledgeable about Russia’s war with Ukraine, Brexit, the cartels in Mexico, the elections in South Korea, and a bunch of other stuff. I read the news for 1-2 hours per morning and I would not consider myself “well versed” on any of it.
Forth, DDG uses results from Microsoft’s Bing. One could do the same search in Bing and get the misinformation.
My takeaway is that DDG is being a responsible netizen, preventing misinformation from proliferating as on-par with verifiable information from credible sources. Those who think DDG is violating libertarian ideals and will not use it as their search engine – farewell and best wishes.