Marju Himma: Playing with lies limits young nationalists' freedom of speech

Marju Himma.
Marju Himma. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Deliberately lying to the public and posing under a fake name taught young nationalists a lesson — that playing with lies limits their own freedom of speech and sends voters a message that they are liars and violent, found Marju Himma.

Imagine you go see your family doctor. The doctor sees you at the clinic, looks like a doctor, and everything is just as it always is at the doctor's. But after they have treated you, it turns out that wasn't a doctor, but rather some random guy off the street who just wanted to see if you'd keep believing him.

This is comparable to the story that came to light with the help of daily Postimees' investigative journalists. Daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL) published pieces in its Opinion section penned by Kert and Bert Valter, although it turned out that no such people existed. This was information disseminated under fake names, and behind it was an activist belonging to Blue Awakening, the youth arm of the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE), who called himself a student of the University of Tartu.

A number of things went wrong in this story right from the start. For example, the fact that EPL didn't verify whether such a person actually existed. Just one query to the University of Tartu would have sufficed to confirm that neither Bert nor Kert Valter had ever studied at the alma mater.

Readers have a reasonable expectation that a press source will check its facts and sources prior to publishing. One should expect this in particular of stories for which the publication charges its readers. Based on the published pieces, one can claim that EPL took the money, but left the work undone. This reflected poorly on journalism as a whole.

The Blue Awakening activist who penned these pieces sees nothing wrong with what he did. But I, as a citizen of the Republic of Estonia, do.

Journalism has to provide citizens with quality and reliable information based upon which to make decisions. EPL erred, but it admitted to its mistake, removed the articles published under a fake name and published a story explaining the matter. Postimees' investigative team fulfilld its role, bringing to light these young political hopefuls who are not afraid to lie, incite hatred or deceive citizens. Right now, ahead of the elections, it would be fitting to stress that not a single citizen of the Republic of Estonia should vote for a politician who deliberately wants to lie to the public.

Postimees continued its investigation and found more fake accounts with which people who do not fit EKRE's worldview are taunted, hatred is incited and, literally, people are posting "Kill all journalists!" I understand people who vote for EKRE, but I certainly cannot understand people who attempt to promote their worldview by means of death threats.

As a voter, this is critical information based upon which to decide whom to vote and whom not to vote for.

The Blue Awakening activist behind the entire operation found that publishing an opinion under a fake name is freedom of speech.

He found out quickly enough that freedom of speech is accompanied by responsibility — according to the Code of Ethics of the Estonian Press, it is possible to submit an opposing statement to an article. But when the opposing statement comes once again from a fake name and fake account? Then the opposing statement is called off. And Postimees also decided not to grant the liar a chance to submit an opposing statement.

As a citizen, I find that the entire information operation conducted under fake names and fake accounts reminded journalists of their responsibility. Young nationalists, however, hopefully learned the lesson that playing with fragments of lies ultimately limits their own freedom of speech and sends voters a message that they are liars and violent. With this, I believe young politicians have learned their lesson about playing with lies.


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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