Government Misinformation Platforms
63 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2023 Last revised: 6 Jul 2023
Date Written: February 27, 2023
There is a harmful mismatch between how information published by the government is perceived—as highly trustworthy—and the reality that it is often not. This Article shows that the government frequently collects information from third-party private entities and publishes it with no review or vetting. Although this information is riddled with errors and inaccuracies, scholars, policy-makers, and the public treat the information with unwarranted confidence because it derives from the government. Further, institutional imprimatur (and consequent trust) attaches to information even tangentially associated with the government and to information where the government explicitly disclaims review.
This Article highlights the ubiquity of government platforms for private, unvetted information that is easily misinterpreted as authoritative. For example, the EPA encourages the public to rely on emissions data supplied by companies and unreviewed by the agency, the FDA disseminates official-looking information about drugs that is generated by drug manufacturers and posted without agency evaluation, and the CDC publicizes a database of potential vaccine side-effects to which anyone can submit unverified reports.
Many policies push open access to government information under the belief that the public can put this information to valuable ends. Greater access to government information is also touted as promoting transparency and democratizing governance. This Article argues that, contrary to scholarly consensus, policies to promote openness may instead spread misinformation, which often works against the goal of the institution disseminating the information and has broader social harms. These harms are aggravated by a growth in private intermediaries providing the public with easier access to government information. Existing policy tools—disclaimers and sanctions—can be improved but cannot completely solve the problem of government misinformation. This Article proposes new solutions including mechanisms to correct inaccurate information and methods to package information in ways that render it less misleading. Reform is crucial because, in its absence, the push towards open access to government information is likely to be self-defeating: eroding, not building, trust in government.
Keywords: government information, open government, misinformation, administrative law
JEL Classification: D82, K23, K40, L51, O33, Z18
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation