In essence, this concept deals with the management of memes. For a delightful discussion of Memes, see Susan Blackmore's TED presentation. A key concept associated with Memes is that their replication/propagation bears no relationship to their validity or usefulness. A good lie often gets more traction than the truth. (Something that politicians and marketing folks recognize.) Needless to say, the web and Internet are very effective channels for distribution of mis-information, and there are basically no tools that help persons distinguish the good from the bad from the ugly. When teaching IT I often included a series of web sites for my students to evaluate, these included:
- Save the Pacific Tree Octopus -- which of course do not exist, and
- Di Hydrogen Mon Oxide which outlines the dangers of this substance, quite accurately, without disclosing that it is water.
Clearly, at least in the U.S., there is an issue of freedom of speech. A recent US Supreme Court ruling struck down the "Stolen Valor Act", upholding the "right" of a political candidate (in the specific case) to lie about having received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Needless to say there are many other political lies -- claims and accusations -- that have significant sticking power in the public mind, but apparently some levels of misrepresentation are permissible within the US. Other cultures will have other values, some less demanding, some more demanding.
There is a two fold problem here: "who decides what information is malicious?" -- note that true statements may be considered malicious, and false statements not considered to be malicious. And the second problem, which gets back to Blackmore's approach --- there may be no way to "stop" the replication of highly successful memes, even if they are lies or are malicious. Governments in China and Singapore try to control the Internet in their domains for similar reasons -- and with varying degrees of success.
At the same time, people die from mis-information. An mis-leading (and perhaps fraudulent) article on the MMR Vaccine, associating this with Autism has been clearly discredited, but the residual "public memory" still has parents refusing the vaccine -- which creates a potential health risk for not just the children who are not protected, but for larger communities where epidemics may occur and in the worst case yield resistant strains or even ones that can affect immunized individuals. A quick search yields even recent articles reinforcing this meme, helping parents justify their refusal. (I won't provide any additional credibility or improved search ranking to such articles by linking to them.)
Needless to say topics like Evolution vs Creationism (and implicit issues related to "the young earth", and the validity of various dating systems (carbon 14, et al) ) all can enter into this domain of valid, malicious, mis-leading, etc. information. Efforts to control/restrict information and mis-information run deep in many cultures, and the criteria for decision making in this area is at best unclear. What is clear is the passion that communities have for their perceptions, and that in some cases, these perceptions can be damaging to individuals and governments. The U.S. revolution was driven by ideas -- many of which are in the Declaration of Independence . The writings and rhetoric of Marx and Lenin fed the 1917 Russian Revolution. So the concern of governments about the spread of the dangerous memes has some basis in history.