opinion   |   column

Banning "fake news" may not be the answer

We’ve all heard our President moan about it, we’ve seen the ads on Facebook, and we know its second cousin, the white lie. Some may say that it has damaged our government, others might say it is simply a source of memes. The real question is, is "fake news" so bad that we need to outlaw it?

Malaysia believes this is the case. The parliament passed a bill that outlaws "fake news" in their country. If it has been breached, then the offender can face up to six years in jail or pay a fine up to the equivalent of $123,000 U.S. dollars.

Lawmakers claim this bill will not impose on freedom of speech and that cases under it would be “handled through an independent court process.” 

Fake news would be classified as “news, information, data and reports which is or are wholly or partly false.” 

Interestingly enough, this law is coming into effect shortly before a general election in Malaysia. I think it is fair to believe this is a preemptive measure to avoid slander and the spread of fake news towards political opponents. 

This last point is why I am worried about outlawing fake news. Despite the claims that this law will not infringe upon freedom of speech, it feels like it could be used to make sure those unhappy with the government will not be able to share information that is unfavorable. 

While this could very well be a good idea, as pointed out by human rights groups and other members of Malaysian parliament, any misprint, error or fact that is not authorized by the government can be labeled as fake news. 

This feels like the next step progression after events like Spain and Russia banning memes that poke fun at politicians. Both countries did so in 2016. It backfired for both countries. 

The idea of not being faced with fake news on a daily basis is enticing, sure, but when we complain about fake news we are usually talking about those fake headlines on Facebook claiming that a morgue employee was hoarding 3,000 penises — that’s a real fake news article. 

Now, if there was a way we could get rid of those headlines without infringing on freedom of speech or possibly setting up reporters for failure, I would get behind that law. Until that can happen, though, I cannot support this. 

So long as President Trump doesn’t catch wind of this bill, I think we won’t be seeing a similar law anytime soon in America.

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