Evolving Past Media Misinformation: How to Deal with Fake News


Deliberately misinforming the public is a serious violation of trust and should be treated as such. (Courtesy of Pia Fischetti, The Fordham Ram)

Deliberately misinforming the public is a serious violation of trust and should be treated as such. When news outlets fail to deliver the truth to the public, they are improperly educating the public and, at worst, causing mass hysteria. Fake news outlets foster a sense of distrust between people and media, causing people to be less likely to listen to or believe reliable news sources. In dire situations, the public will be reluctant to believe what they hear, posing a danger to society. Despite the European Commission’s report advising against limiting the spread of fake news, many countries have taken it upon themselves to stop misinformation in its tracks.

Over the last three years, countries have used different approaches to deal with fake news. While some take a more relaxed approach in disciplining media sources, other governments favor more drastic measures to ensure that media remains honest. In countries like Bangladesh, for instance, one photographer is currently facing a seven-year sentence for spreading misinformation concerning the government at a widely publicized student protest. Similarly, in Kenya, people who knowingly distribute fake news are subject to fines as high as $50,000 or face two years in prison. 

Some countries, like the U.S., have defamation laws, amongst other measures, in place for situations involving fake news. If found guilty, perpetrators can face hefty fines and, in extreme cases, jail time. These laws facilitate justice for the public as well as individuals who have been directly harmed by the spread of fake news. However, these news outlets can only be held accountable for their actions if they are found to have deliberately spread false claims with the intention of causing harm. 

While these laws may be helpful in some cases, it is exceedingly difficult to prove that a news outlet had malicious intent. As a result, news consumers have criticized this legal approach. However, stricter measures come dangerously close to censorship, potentially infringing on Americans’ First Amendment rights. The effects of censorship are evidenced in some less democratic countries in which corrupt government officials twist fake news laws to prevent the spread of anti-government content.

Some states within the U.S., such as California, aim to prevent the spread of misinformation by implementing media literacy in public schools. Though a noble approach, without action in other states, the majority of the public will still not be educated enough to determine whether or not a particular news source is credible. Media literacy needs to be widely implemented to make an effective change. Even then, fake news outlets may evolve to appear more credible while spreading the same misinformation. A proactive approach is better than letting fraudulent sources run free, but stricter federal guidelines and consequences are needed to ensure that the media reports the truth.

However, there is some difficulty in attempting to regulate fake news. Specifically, it stems from the fact that governments cannot come to a formal agreement as to what constitutes fake news. There is a possibility of errors slipping past fact checkers, and even the most reliable news outlets make the occasional error. With this being the case, should these journalists be punished? Some countries seem to think so while others err on the side of protecting their people from unjust punishment and chalking it up to an honest mistake. Nevertheless, all countries that attempt to limit fake news agree that when the public is deliberately misinformed, action must be taken.

Carolyn Branigan, FCRH ’24, is an English major from Tinton Falls, N.J.