The Rise of Fake News Through Technology and How to Regulate It

By: Emily Bayard

Technology has greatly enhanced the accessibility of information in the twenty first century. While there are significant advantages to having a plethora of information at our fingertips, there are also disadvantages. For example, within the past year, we have experienced a rise in fake news on all types of subjects. Be it Hollywood, Finance, Politics or the Sports world, fake news is ubiquitous throughout all media outlets. There has always been a threat of fake news, but it is more prevalent today because the ability to post or share information via the internet is almost instantaneous.[1] This is a cause for concern because fake news can have detrimental effects on individuals and society as a whole.

One way that fake news can be regulated is through social media companies like Facebook and Twitter. Facebook, specifically, has been heavily criticized for the amount of fake news on its site.[2] Facebook has responded with efforts to help reduce the amount of fake news and restore trust in its users.[3] In May, the company began efforts to decrease the number of posts and ads in the News Feed that do not meet its standards.[4] In early August, Facebook began using advanced technology to detect potential fake news and to fact check it.[5] When fake news is found, the fact check results are disclosed on the post.[6] Most recently, in late August, Facebook released a statement notifying the public that the company is instituting a temporary advertising ban on businesses that repeatedly share and spread fake news.[7]

Another way that fake news can be regulated is through the government. However, the term ‘fake news’ has yet to be clearly defined by law or precedent.[8] Furthermore, the idea of censorship causes much controversy and finding a balance between censorship and the First Amendment right to freedom of speech is extremely problematic. Currently, the Federal Communications Commission attempts to regulate fake news through the broadcast hoax regulation, which only applies to licensed TV and radio broadcasters.[9] The only other way that the government attempts to regulate fake news is through defamation laws.[10] A victim of fake news can seek legal redress through a civil action for defamation.[11] Defamation laws vary by state, but generally, the plaintiff must prove that the defamation was objectively false, published, quantifiably injurious, and unprotected speech.[12]

Facebook and the government may attempt to regulate fake news, but arguably the most effective way to combat fake news is through the vigilance of the people using the internet.[13] We are blasted with “breaking news” or “important update” or “this just came in” to get our attention with stories that bring in the most advertising dollars. It is imperative that internet users are able to recognize which sources are reliable and which are unreliable, and also take advantage of all this available information by looking at several different news sources. Simply put, we must be more scrupulous with the news presented to us rather than taking what we read or hear as fact.

[1] Eugene Volokh, Fake news and the law, from 1798 to now, Wash. Post (Dec. 9, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2016/12/09/fake-news-and-the-law-from-1798-to-now/?utm_term=.5e99f9f8f38c.

[2] JP Mangalindan, Facebook says it will ban businesses from advertising if they share fake news, Yahoo Finance (Aug. 28, 2017), https://finance.yahoo.com/news/facebook-says-will-ban-businesses-advertising-share-fake-news-150513872.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Will Erstad, Are There Legal Ramifications to Publishing Fake News Stories?, Rasmussen College: School of Justice Studies Blog (Feb. 23, 2017), http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/justice-studies/blog/legal-ramifications-of-fake-news-stories/.

[9] Volokh, supra note 1.

[10] Erstad, supra note 8.

[11] Erstad, supra note 8.

[12] Erstad, supra note 8.

[13] Erstad, supra note 8.

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