And why it shouldn’t be a crime to falsely accuse Lord McAlpine as a paedophile
I wrote before why the only rights we have are property rights. So the only justification for ever arresting/prosecuting/locking someone up for something is if they infringe other people’s property rights.
Lying doesn’t do this. When Sally Bercow and Philip Schofield falsely outed people like Lord McAlpine as paedophiles they didn’t impact on his property rights one bit. When someone lies about you it affects your reputation, but reputation isn’t something you own. What is a reputation but other people’s views of you, their thoughts, in their head? If it belongs to anyone it belongs to the people who think it, and as it was they who chose to change their opinion there has been no property rights violation.
You have no right to control what others think about you, even if it affects your ability to earn money — after all you have no right to a certain level of income. If I am to spread vicious rumours about you then, as long as I don’t break into your house to do it, or try to make it seem real by initiating violence against you then I have infringed on none of your property rights. You can’t own other peoples thoughts, you do not have a right to control what other people think of you.
So what does this mean practically? Well frankly if anyone wants to write, print or say whatever they want about you then that is their prerogative. I would abolish all libel laws and things like defamation.
The first criticism I hear about this is that newspapers would start lying left right and centre about people in order to get headlines. But such short term thinking is incredibly unrealistic. One of the most precious things to newspapers is reputation: News of the World, one of the most profitable papers ever was shut down precisely because of reputational damage. If Newspaper X starts printing lie Y about person Z then it is absolutely in the interest of papers A B and C to expose X for being a liar. No only is Z cleared of the wrong but X is likely to lose a great deal of readership (while people like papers that suit their biases they also don’t like being outright lied to) the very market mechanism itself will lead to papers being able to expose others for lying. After all it was newspapers themselves who first uncovered the phone hacking scandal.
Secondly, with knowledge that anyone can say whatever they like about anyone else people will, rightly, be a lot more sceptical about shocking stories which expose people. When people read something in a newspaper now they seem to take it as fact, as opposed to when they read it on twitter then are far more sceptical about information. That same level of questioning and scepticism would – in my eyes – be beneficial, allowing people to question the agendas newspapers and TV channels have, rather than accepting them as a fact.
Libel laws in Britain rightly get an awful lot of flak, they are at the moment a joke. But while many propose reforming them I believe they have no place in the statute book at all. It is not for the state to tell you whether to lie or not, it is your own morals that you should look to. Lying does not cause physical harm, it does not infringe on any property rights. The best way to counter liars is to expose them for what they are, not use the apparatus of a coercing state to enforce your own morality upon them.