Should 'fake news' be a crime?

By | October 14, 2017

I stumbled across this article in my inbox this morning and it indirectly raises an interesting question: could / should fake news be a crime?

In the wake of the last US presidential election, a substantial sum – about a quarter of a million dollars – was spent on Twitter advertisements by Russian-linked accounts. This has helped to propagate certain propaganda, a practice termed newsjacking.

Yes, there is a right to free speech and in theory, adults are responsible enough to differentiate between trustworthy and untrustworthy news sources before making decisions based on their content. But with people turning increasingly to social media and user-generated content for 'authentic news' in close to real time, the number of adults who start to believe 'alternate' news has grown at an alarming rate.

This triggers some questions in my mind:
– Is newsjacking a new weapon which would constitute an attack in international cyberwarfare?
– What other groups and countries might employ newsjacking on a large scale, and to what ends?
– What is the potential impact of newsjacking on national security and on cultural values?
– Should regulation be a necessary next step to limit the influence any particular organization or opinion may generate through newsjacking practices?

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7 thoughts on “Should 'fake news' be a crime?

  1. Joe Repka

    I think we need to take the view from the consumer of the ads and recognize the importance of the ability to 'consider the source' in our interpretation of the content and how we let it affect our thoughts and attitudes.
    Transparency is highly important, and you either have it or you don't. It won't work if we have a gatekeeper that tries to play favorites.

    The thing that distinguishes paid, targeted ads from individual posts, where anonymity is not a basic problem and may have positive value, is that someone is paying money to further an agenda in a designed way. I believe we need to know who they are, whoever they are.

  2. Sophie Wrobel

    +Joe Repka should that 'Paid for by…' apply for individual persons who want to place ads as well – and if so, should pseudonyms be allowed in order to allow them to preserve their anonymity? How about minority groups at risk of being targeted because their thoughts are not mainstream?

  3. Joe Repka

    I think the problem is best addressed with a much smaller hammer, one already being used for media companies: transparency in political advertisement.

    Facebook and Google should be subject to the same restrictions on ads that other media companies have. If we know who place the ads and how they are targeted, we can better understand them in their full context. "Paid for by …"

  4. Sophie Wrobel

    +John Bielecki Agree on that. But censorship isn't new, really… only the scope of what is considered 'a threat to national security' seems to be growing absurdly fast, and I'm not so sure that we're ready to keep that in check before it's too late.

  5. John Bielecki

    Dangerous territory here. Powerful people could use the excuse of "fake news" to suppress embarrassing information and to silence enemies forever.


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