This is really just a sketch of an idea, but it rang so many different bells the moment it came to me, I thought I should share it…
I won’t turn this into a linkfest. If you want to see the kind of fearmongering I’m talking about, google anti-terrorism campaigns, anti-photography hysteria and anti-vaccination freaking action groups. Harder to search for, you could look at race/class/religious-hate baiting, since time immemorial. Look at the most vacuous pure-negative elements of every political campaign. Look at advertising of all kinds, bent on instilling, for example, a Howard-Hughes-esque obsession with hygiene.
As matters stand, we have legal barriers to false advertising. Advertisers do their best to leak around the edges, but the most blatant kinds of falsehood can be met with a legal rebuff.
Suppose, in the same vein, we could take legal action against someone who made a sustained effort to provoke a fearful reaction, without being able to substantiate their claims? Suppose there was a government body whose role was to pursue this kind of crime, warn people, and take action against the heedless.
Would this be a good thing? It seems to me that this would fix a huge number of problems, while being a relatively easy thing to measure and police. I’m sure there must be a catch… or why aren’t we already doing it?