Can fake news be eliminated by the law?

by gabrielleL on February 6, 2017 - 11:06am

Can fake news be eliminated by the law?

In her article titled “MPs look for ways to fight 'fake news' in wake of mosque shooting” posted on February 2, 2017, Kathleen Harris questions whether or not fake news could be eliminated by the law. After the numerous false information that circulated on the suspect of the recent terrorist attack in Quebec City, the issue of fake news has been raised once again. For many lawyers, the implantation of a new law prohibiting people from spreading fake news could be the solution to this growing issue. However, the implantation of such law might be interfering with the freedom of speech. As for now, Court Orders are the only legal way to denunciate fake news. If the material is judged to be defamatory, the person who posted it would be legally obligated to remove it. Since such measures are time-consuming and demand a lot of money, Court orders are rarely used. 

Comments

You bring up an issue that is important to deal with in today’s society. Some sources of information have an agenda which they push by being intentionally misleading or providing false facts (or “alternate facts”).

The reason for banning fake news falls into the ethical framework of deontology, or virtue ethics, which is a concept which states that what is considered unethical is always unethical, regardless of the context. Therefore, fake news should be illegal because it is a lie, which is always unethical.

However, passing a law to ban the spreading of false information is a teleological action, meaning whether it is ethical or not is determined by its intended outcome. While the intention is to create a truthful media, limiting free speech (as you mentioned) is a problem.

This is because there must be an entity which decides what is truthful and what is not. Current events in the United States demonstrate the use of the term “fake news” to discredit any opposing information. President Trump, the largest proponent of fake news’ prevalence, tweeted: “Any negative polls are fake news” (Twitter: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/828574430800539648).

The power to eliminate “false information” can be easily abused by allowing those in power to mislead the masses, which is the exact same as publishing fake news in the first place. The only difference is that true information can be deemed false and therefore be censored.

To deal with this situation, a utilitarian approach should be taken: provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people. By choosing between a media filled with both truthful and misleading information or one with just misleading information, it is clear that a ban on fake news would not be good news.