Fake news has serious consequences

Friday, Dec. 16, 2016 1:56 PM

By Carole McWilliams

Last week, I expressed concern about the future of the First Amendment in general, including freedom of the press, given our ruler-elect's hostility to fact-based news reporting.

Fact-based news has been challenged by a proliferation of fake news that can go viral on digital media and seems to be taken as gospel by many people. However, freedom of the press applies to fake news too.

But there are consequences beyond the presidential election result. Fake news demonized Hillary Clinton. Is there left wing fake news too? I'm thinking there was no need for fake news to target Himself. Fact-based news was (and still is) damning enough.

One fake news consequence reported recently by National Public Radio was a man carrying his gun into a pizza parlor in Washington D.C., and firing shots because of a fake news story about a satanic Clinton-linked child abuse ring operating out of there. No one was hurt, but innocent people could have been killed.

A neighboring business also received death threats on a fake claim that there was a tunnel from there to the pizza parlor to help the satanic child abusers.

What did these businesses do to deserve this?

Once out on the web, fake news doesn't die either. Totally innocent people will continue to be affected.

The U.S. has libel and invasion of privacy laws that constrain the media. Libel laws differentiate between people who have become public figures, such as politicians or Hollywood personalities, and people who are not public figures.

It's pretty hard to libel a public figure unless the plaintiff can prove that the news item was false and also involved malice. This is the one our ruler-elect wants to change, so he can take vengeance on the New York Times and other entities that have offended Himself with fact-based reporting.

The libel threshold is much lower when regular folks are involved. They are considered to have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Digital fake news violates that, and Himself occasionally singles out some regular schmuck for exposure in one of his inflammatory tweets that signals his devotees to deluge this person with hate messages and even death threats.

With freedom (and power) is supposed to come responsibility.

I'd argue that includes the perpetrators of fake news sites, businesses that seem happy to advertise there, and also people who forward fake news with no concern of whether there's any truth to it. And it includes Himself.

I'm thinking the Founding Fathers made First Amendment protections open to pretty much all expression, with the idea that when people were exposed to all the information, the truth would win out eventually. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. So sad.