Fake news: What laws are designed to protect

The distinction between “real news” and “fake news” can be quite hazy. Is there anything the legal system can do to stop it?

What’s fake and what’s real?

A “real news” source, like a major newspaper or television network, may make errors, but it never intentionally spreads incorrect information. Real news reporters and editors adhere to a code of ethics that forbids fabricating information and requires them to verify facts and get opinions from both sides of an argument.

On the other side, fake news sources aim to mislead. They may even replicate the layout of other news websites and use URLs that sound like authentic news sources. They could fabricate “news” reports or recycle information from other online sources without verifying its veracity. Their main goal is typically to increase “clicks” and ad income or to further the political agenda of their owners.

A small amount of “fake news” is posted on satire websites, which are often designated as parody. A story that was meant to be a satire, however, can wind up being regarded as the reality when people share stories without reading past the title.

Can’t the legal system punish fake news?

Even erroneous or contentious views may be openly exchanged in America thanks to the First Amendment. Legislation banning false news would constitute censorship that would also hinder the dissemination of true news that some people disagree with.

A defamation case is the primary legal option for combating false information. If someone falsely published information about you and it caused you to experience harm, such as losing your job, having less money, or having your reputation damaged, you may be able to file a defamation lawsuit. If you’re a regular person, you must additionally demonstrate that the news organization was reckless or irresponsible.

However, the majority of false information concerns public persons, who may only prevail in a defamation case by demonstrating that the news source acted with “actual malice.” This implies that the writer either had knowledge that the tale was untrue or had a “reckless disregard” for whether it was accurate. Although it’s typically challenging to prove, defamation lawsuits may become more frequent as concern about false news increases.

For instance, Idaho yogurt maker Chobani recently sued conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website Infowars for defamation over a video and a tweet with the subject line “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists.” A prominent yogurt brand was boycotted as a result of Jones’ post.

Anyone who reposts a false report on a website or blog is also subject to defamation liability, not only the individual who published the false report in the first place. For instance, Melania Trump recently reached a settlement in her defamation litigation against a Maryland blogger who wrote an article in August 2016 and the online Daily Mail, which later that month ran a similar false report.

How to spot fake news and stop it from spreading

Some fake news websites resemble well-known media publications in terms of appearance and voice, making them difficult to distinguish from legitimate news sources. Here are some guidelines for distinguishing between true and fraudulent information:

• Look past the headline. The story can be considered a spoof or it might just seem too unbelievable to be genuine.

• Verify the story’s accuracy yourself. Do an online search to verify the story’s key details, click any offered links, and read the sources. Additionally, search online for any reports designating the website as a false news source and/or the author’s biography.

Ultimately, the law cannot shield you from false information. Do your study, obtain your news from reliable sources.