I recently encountered a link on the internet to a story about the 100 hottest lawyers in America. As I clicked through the pictures of the lawyers identified in the story, I saw that my photo was apparently unintentionally omitted. I say tongue-in-cheek that I should be on every “hottest lawyer” list and that any website with such a list that excludes me is fake and should be shut down.
Fake news itself has been news lately. Various websites were created shortly before the recent presidential election. Many of those websites indicated they were news websites, but they were instead clearinghouses of fake stories designed to attract internet traffic to the websites. The internet traffic then would lead to higher advertising revenue for the specific website.
Many of the fake stories included components that were real, and the links for the stories on other websites typically used whatever words it would take to get someone to click through to the fake news story. Many of the stories included “news” about presidential candidates, and that “news” was often very unflattering.
Of course, many of the fake stories were believed, and then shared through Facebook and then sometimes reported by mainstream television and radio media such as CNN and Fox News.
Facebook has announced a plan to decrease and eliminate the dissemination of fake news through its platform. Nonetheless, when people find themselves embarrassed by passing on fake news, they will sometimes ask me if it was legal for someone to report fake news to begin with.
Unfortunately, in most instances in America, it is not illegal to lie. Obviously, our Constitution includes the freedom to say or write almost anything. Thus, in most cases, creating and passing on fake news is not unlawful.
However, there are exceptions to our freedom of speech. Of course, speech that includes sales or the promotion of consumer products, even if characterized as “news,” is heavily regulated.
Hate speech is speech that offends, threatens or insults groups based on race, ethnicity, national original, religion, sexual orientation or other traits. Most Americans believe that hate speech is an exception to the First Amendment. However, hate speech is generally protected under the First Amendment. If the specific hate speech is designed to or likely to induce someone to fight or physically act upon the hate, that hate speech is not legal. Therefore, the standard on whether fake news that includes hate speech is lawful has nothing to do with how “ugly” the hate speech may be.
A clear exception to the First Amendment’s protection of speech is language that induces panic. Specifically, it is illegal to warn anyone of an alleged fire, explosion, crime or other catastrophe when the speaker knows that the alleged incident is not true. And, recklessly sharing untrue stories that would reasonably result in serious public inconvenience or alarm is similarly unlawful.
Therefore, most fake news is not illegal. To ensure that your news is not fake, rely on The Lima News or limaohio.com.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.