During the 2016 election, a city in Macedonia, Veles, was found to host an industry that was able to produce over one hundred websites that presented fake news that mostly favored Donald Trump, the Republican candidate (Davey-Attlee & Soares, 2017). Employees within the market explained the ways in which the content was produced and the profit that was generated from it by exposing the websites to American citizens. The business was incredibly prosperous but totally dependent on creating intentional misinformation that functioned as sensationalism. Though it cannot be said with certainty, the reach of these fake news articles and Facebook posts may have been prevalent enough in the lives of American voters to sway their election choices.
In response to this, industry giants Facebook and Google began to crack down on cases of such fake news and misinformation by either outright shutting them out of their platforms or through software that was able to distinguish ‘bad’ publishers and limit or eliminate their sources of monetization. Despite this, such groups or individuals have found ways to continue this business process and are likely to overcome a number of barriers that companies like Facebook and Google set up in the future. As such, a debate continues to be prevalent concerning the legality of misinformation and the lawfulness of limiting any form of speech, even if falsified, as an act against free speech.
The current term ‘fake news’ is quite general, but a number of laws exist and can be implemented by Congress in order to combat actions of misinformation. First, a 2017 bill requires platforms such as Google and Facebook to keep copies of ads, make them public, and record who is paying for what and at what price (Funke & Flamini, 2018). A 2018 law in California has also bolstered media literacy in schools by creating a list of instructional materials and resources that teaches to evaluate trustworthy media and content. A 2019 case was the first to conclude that selling fake social media content is an illegal act through a settlement with the New York state attorney.
As such, Congress is currently unable to tackle the issue of fake news in a direct sense, but through a number of prevention tactics and legal cases against groups or individuals that make revenue from intentionally falsified content, fake news may carry serious legal consequences. A number of acts, such as the SHIELD act, work to prohibit foreign-government-sponsored advertising within social media or other online content in order to stop harmful interference within U.S. elections. However, no current law can directly stop actions such as those committed in Veles, which were not government-sponsored.
Davey-Attlee, F., & Soares, I. (2017). The fake news machine: inside a town gearing up for 2020. CNNMoney. Web.
Funke, D., & Flamini, D. (2018). A guide to anti-misinformation actions around the world. Poynter. Web.