Should It Be Illegal to Publish Fake News?

We’ve heard a lot about fake news in the past few years, and frankly the situation is only getting worse with all the saturation. It makes you wonder when it’s going to stop. Malaysia decided to put an end to it this week, making it illegal. We asked our writers, “Should it be illegal to publish fake news?”

Our Opinion

Andrew feels it would be impossible to make fake news illegal.. “The sheer volume of media that is produced each day would make any attempt to enforce that law an industrial-scale operation, even with algorithms weeding out the obvious material.” Additionally, he’s looking at fake news as a logistical nightmare, as it can easily move internationally without jurisdiction or borders.

He sees a censorship mechanism as the only way to control it and sees it working at best with high-profile cases where false info is being reported, but at worst to virtually silence opposing political views. With libel and slander laws that already exist, “outlawing false information sounds great in principle, but in reality, it’s an extremely complex issue with a lot of opportunities for abuse and human error.”

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Miguel doesn’t think it should be either, as “if the state is allowed to determine what is or isn’t fake, we end up with the very real potential of an unfree press. While the press may be called free in places, that doesn’t mean much when some people are ostracized in ways that “free press analysts turn a blind eye to because they reported on something the state felt threatened by.”

Ada sees an unhealthy obsession with fake news to begin with and notes it’s easy enough to vet out. But she feels “it goes too far to make it illegal to publish fake news. There are other mechanisms, legal ones included, as Andrew mentioned, to deal with its effects.” It smells too much like censorship to her.

Alex quotes Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis by saying, “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” He sees it as “far beyond the power of the government to monitor and regulate the output of every website purporting to produce news.” He also believes it would be a thin line, such as the difference between satire and true news.

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Ernes would hesitate to support making fake news illegal. However, he thinks “the malicious spreading of false information should be discouraged in some way, but not all fake news is bad.” He, too, points towards satire. He doesn’t believe “the onus for sifting through all of it falls completely on the shoulders of consumers” and notes you can verify information with little effort.

Ryan believes there should be some type of disclaimer, similar to opinion pieces being labeled clearly as opinion pieces. “Even though fake news is dangerous and designed to be divisive, flat out banning fake news is potentially a violation of free speech.”

I liked the idea of labeling it like opinion pieces; however, I don’t see it working, as true fake news is intentionally published to make people believe it’s true. Those people would not be interested in labeling it as fake. But that would work for satire. I don’t believe it should be illegal, though, as I, too, worry about what it would mean for a free press. I’m not sure, though, how it should be controlled.

Your Opinion

There’s no doubt that fake news is indeed a problem, but what is the right way to control it? How do you feel about the issue?Should it be illegal to publish fake news? Air your thoughts in the comments section below.

6 comments

  1. “Should It Be Illegal to Publish Fake News?”
    To make it illegal, you have to define it objectively and rigorously. The definition of “I cannot define ‘fake news’ but I know it when I see it” just does not cut it. We all “know’ what fake news is but each one of us has their own definition. What it boils down to is that, for most of us, “fake news” is any news we do not like or disagree with.

    ““if the state is allowed to determine what is or isn’t fake, we end up with the very real potential of an unfree press”
    If ANY individual or group is allowed to determine what is and isn’t fake, and enforce it, we end up with an unfree society.

    “Ada sees an unhealthy obsession with fake news to begin with”
    ‘Fake news’ has been with us for thousands of years. Until a few years ago nobody gave a damn about it. People were sensible enough to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. All of a sudden, in the enlightened age of the Internet, we need someone to tell us what is real and what is fake. Have we become stupider?

    “the malicious spreading of false information should be discouraged in some way”
    And do away with the mudslinging of political campaigns?! You mean no more attack commercials??? It would be wonderful if political ads told us the real truth about the candidates.

    “Ryan believes there should be some type of disclaimer”
    That works only if the entity posting the ‘fake news’ knows it is fake. What about the ‘true believers’ who ‘know’ that the Earth is flat, the Moon landings were faked in Hollywood, that more than one shooter was involved in the JFK assassination, or that the US government imploded the Twin Towers on 9/11? You don’t expect them to put a ‘fake news’ disclaimer on information they wholeheartedly believe is true, do you?

    “Should it be illegal to publish fake news?”
    IIRC, the Holy Mother Church declared that Galileo’s discoveries were ‘fake news’ and made any spreading of his ideas punishable with Inquisition, excommunication and burning at the stake. How did that prohibition work out for the Church?

  2. Banning ‘fake’ news goes against the first amendment of the constitution. Fake news has been around forever not just now. What we need is to allow discussion and debate not discourse shutting speech down.

  3. If you listen or watch more than one news source and listen objectively, you will quickly ferret out agenda-driven information versus truly balanced, unslanted events-as-they-happened. Of course, good luck finding that: everyone – left, right, centrist – have an agenda.
    If I support the agenda of, say, the current president of the US, as I listen to him speaking, I will find words and phrases that support that agenda and will have little difficulty with cognitive dissonance if that agenda goes contrary to what I might believe are basic human rights. If I think that cannabis is a dangerous substance, I will feel relief listening to a police chief extolling the success of a raid as he reinforces the notion that cannabis is a gateway-drug, because that is what I believe already. If, however, I have learned from current scientific research into substance abuse that alcohol is actually now considered the gateway-drug, not cannabis, because I might have a glass of wine of an evening, I will easily dismiss all that research with: “well, I drink alcohol and I don’t do drugs. It must be rubbish, that research. What do so-called scientists know, anyway?”
    Our education, our circumstances and our ability to see other perspectives shape our ability to detect information that is more or less agenda-driven. Censorship will accomplish nothing except give those with the most powerful tools the ability to wield public opinion and thought to their liking. Determining what is fake and real is up to the individual to determine. If you believe it, you have to wear the consequences of that belief.

    1. “If you listen or watch more than one news source and listen objectively”
      The key word here is “OBJECTIVELY”. I know it is an unpopular idea and many people will deny it but we all have built-in biases and prejudices, and we listen/watch to the news through the filter of those biases.

  4. There’s no such thing as “fake news”. In case nobody has noticed, Trump uses that phrase solely to refer to anything that tells truthful stories about his actions and activities that he would rather nobody knows about. He uses that phrase in the hope that people will disbelieve the story, being too stupid to realize that we’ve figured out his “code” and know that we need to read the story as soon as possible to see what stupidity he’s been up to now.

  5. I am not defending Trump. However, during the last Presidential Campaign Hillary and her camp used that term just as profusely as Trump and his people. Lest you think I am picking on Hillary, all politicians and many prominent people have used, and are using, that phrase in reference to any negative news about them. I can see you do not like Trump but try to be a little bit objective and see that most people invoke the “fake news” defense.

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