Earlier this year while on the campaign trail Donald Trump threatened to “open up libel laws” after organizations like The New York Time, Washington Post and many other continued to write “hit pieces” against him. While many people were critical of Trump for his statements on the matter at the time and remain fearful for the future of the industry under a Trump Presidency today, would cracking down upon online publishing really be the worst thing for this country?
What is Libel Law?
As defined by law.com, a person or publisher has committed libel when they “publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others.”
The definition continues, “Libel is the written or broadcast form of defamation, distinguished from slander, which is oral defamation. It is a tort (civil wrong) making the person or entity (like a newspaper, magazine or political organization) open to a lawsuit for damages by the person who can prove the statement about him/her was a lie. Publication need only be to one person, but it must be a statement which claims to be fact and is not clearly identified as an opinion.”
If we are going to literally apply the Laws surrounding Libel to the internet, how many publishers/authors/journalists would be found guilty in a court of law and shut down? I would happen to think there would be many and this would include several large publishers inside the United States today.
Over the last 8 years I have seen major publications including Sean Hannity on Fox News repeatedly call President Obama a “Kenyan secret Muslim out to destroy the US Constitution” or publications like InfoWars state how Obama will “declare himself dictator and declare martial law” to enslave the country.I have heard Michele Bachmann say on live news radio that President Obama will “usher in the Biblical end of days” and I seriously wish I was joking when I say this, but you can type in a Google search and find countless “publications” calling Obama/Trump/Clinton or almost anyone else “the antichrist.”
This is unfiltered “news” as we now experience it in 2016, an endless spam of conspiracy, nonsense, fear-mongering, disinformation and click-bait. Anyone with a computer and some free time can start their own “news page” or blog and post whatever they like – almost without consequence.
There is a difference between facts and information and our online news market is completely saturated with endless “information.” Even sadder though, there is so much wild information available to people these days that many people do not even know what to think anymore, or what is even true in some cases. The internet is the largest library of information in the world, the largest collection of knowledge on Earth, yet society is less educated about important events than perhaps we have ever been.
The integrity of journalism and trust in the news within the United States, especially over the course of the last decade, has continued to deteriorate. Reading some of these headlines every day, it actually appears like people/journalists honestly believe there are no ramifications for what they say – so they make up or say whatever they want.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind and two wrongs do not make a right.
Moreover, people actually feel justified or compelled to make deliberately bias news pieces because they feel like they have to counteract all of the other misinformation out there from the other side. It creates and endless cycle of publishing where only the most flashy, outlandish, bizarre or controversial headlines/articles attract the most attention/viewers.
It is what is referred to in the industry as “click-bait” and is the reason we see so many fake and/or crazy stories all over the internet.Publishers want to get people talking and keep people entertained, not educate or inform them.
When I look around society and see all of these riots or fights breaking out, or see all of these people yelling at one another about partisan issues in public, I honestly believe the modern news media is almost entirely to blame. We have allowed people to publish and produce whatever information they want, even if it is false, without consequence and look at what is happening. People in our country are consuming all of this news/information, in some cases reading wildly inaccurate publications, take it as fact and regurgitate it back into society when they interact with others.
It is not an easy conversation to have, but we have to change the way in which people consume news and receive information in the future. We can not have the number one news network in the country, Fox News, calling the President of the United States a secret Muslim who was not born in this country. That is libel on the highest of levels and is the sort of behavior in the press which must be stopped.
The problem is here in the United States we must also uphold the 1st Amendment and the right to Freedom of Speech, but how can you support someone using this right to spread conspiracy, hate and misinformation which negatively effects the lives of other people? As someone who is it attempting to establish their own digital publishing agency, I am 100% in favor of free and open internet, but I also think opening up Libel Laws and applying them to my chosen industry makes a lot of sense.
At the same time however, I also acknowledged that once you start to censor the internet or censor information in general, you are setting a dangerous precedent which is almost sure to be abused. Playing the logic outwards, what information should be allowed and what should not; what is “right” to say and what is “wrong“; what is “the truth?” Who is to really say or decide – Donald Trump?
Independent from my article, I happened to come across a headline from Ars Technica earlier today loosely discussing this very issue. In it, Mark Zuckerber is quoted as saying that “we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth” – in regard to applying libel law and deciding what is “fake news” or not.
The fear is that journalism in the United States could wind up like Turkey – or China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, et cetera – where people are jailed for simply reporting the news. One of the great things about this country is that we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and this is a hard issue to tackle because some of the same laws which make our country great are also deteriorating society.
It is almost a moral issue of sorts, we all know there is too much smut, nonsense and misinformation floating around public these days, but is it immoral and tyrannical to clean it up and get rid of it? I think you will find people on both sides of that argument right now.
As someone who spends dozens of hours a week at a net loss trying establish my own digital publishing agency, this issue is extremely important to me. During the campaign season I sent a message to Donald Trump as a prospective voter in this years election asking him if my news site would be one of the pages he allows or not – if we began to restrict information on the internet. To date I never heard a response. I might support shutting down some of these publishers on the internet, until I find out I am one of them that they want want gone as well.
This Content Was Created Under An Alt_Publishers License