Fake News: Make it Illegal?

Fake news has crawled its way through the world wide web like an incurable virus…or so would those whose election hopes didn’t go their way might have us believe. Many are calling on social media venues to ban what they claim is fake news, but the problem for them is, such material is not illegal. However, it is becoming a serious source of proliferating myths and misinformation that has damaged reputations and even resulted in serious threats of violence.

Fake news reporters are not solely to blame for this growing phenomenon. The most culpable are those who carelessly share fake stories on social media. These folks get all worked up over a headline that disagrees with their politics and immediately share or retweet for their friends and the whole world to see. These people are too lazy to read the article, but expect their friends to do the reading and share in their anger.

I operate a satirical news site called RealClear Satire. We are upfront that we are a humor site. Our goal is to drive key points through comedy. Yet, even so, a percentage of readers will see a headline and forward the piece without reading it. If visitors would even just read two paragraphs, they will quickly see they are reading humor.

For example, we recently wrote a piece an article about President-elect Trump considering to name Michelle Obama to the Supreme Court of the United States. In very little time, our website got more than 1,000 hits, and our Facebook Page exploded with comments, likes and shares. People who share my personal political beliefs were cursing at me, threatening me, and accusing me of supporting Hillary Clinton. Some of the nastiest foul mouth people were married women in their 40s. Had these lunatics taken the 60 seconds needed to read the article, they clearly would have seen humor was being employed to drive home key messages points. That’s what satire is all about.

Although we are upfront about being a satirical site, there are in fact some sites that manipulate their names with the intention to deceive. Though this might not be criminally prosecutable, these people are setting themselves up to spend the rest of their lives paying off a massive lawsuit. It’s usually easy to detect fake sites through amateurish writing, excessive use of exclamation points and cheap and cheesey photographs.

Finally, there is one more more culprit in the mix: The mainstream media. As we have seen throughout the presidential election, there has been so much biased and dishonest reporting among the major news outlets. While a number of situations contributed to Trump’s victory, clearly media dishonesty played a key role in mobilizing undecided voters. People got sick of unfair and unbalanced reporting and veiled promotion and support of the candidate the media favored.

Fake news cannot be made illegal. If so, fiction books would become illegal. Religious scriptures could be identified as fake and subsequently banned (For example, if the Holy Bible is the true God-breathed scripture, how can the Koran or any other book of “holy writ” be?). Banning fake news just will not work in the United States.

But what will work is responsible readership. Get past the headlines and determine if the news source is credible. If one is too lazy to read the piece, then don’t share, comment or retweet. And by doing one’s homework, we can shut down the sites that exist to fool and harm. If a site isn’t upfront about its intent (again, in our case, to drive key points through humor), you can vote with your thumbs — don’t click on it. Soon enough, the fake site will whither and die.

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