We’ve seen a lot of claims of fake news recently, and it made me wonder what benefits there were for the bigger picture. Certainly, there are problems, but who benefits from fake news? It’s becoming clear that Trump and his team have the advantage. Recently, Melania Trump decided to sue blogger Webster Griffin Tarpley for saying she used to be a “high-end escort.” Lawyers for the defendant claim it’s not illegal to publish a rumor if you think it’s true. In fact, libel and slander laws do need to establish intent in order to be enforced. However, remember Trump wants to “open up” libel laws in order to sue news outlets (NPR). The suit by Melania is going forward.
Here’s what happens with fake news:
Once you lie, your credibility is shot. Ask Dan Rather, Brian Williams, etc. More seriously, though, once you lie, your trustworthiness decreases, which makes it easier for someone else to say you lied. If it’s determined that you did lie, then you can be punished for libel or slander. Now a jury will look at the defendant and try to assess his/her trustworthiness in the courtroom, and given that he/she may or may not have already lied and that there has been plenty of fake news out there and that the plaintiff might even be able to paint some news outlets as having gained from lying, a jury might decide that, in fact, the defendant did lie. If the news was always honest, then no one would believe they lied.
Now, Trump and his team are also spreading fake news, and Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was king of lying while working at Breitbart. Therefore, Trump’s team knows how to lie, seems to enjoy lying, and seems to predict benefits for them of lying.
Okay, so someone lies. Then the news reports it as true because they assume it’s not a lie. Then Trump lies again to say he had never said what the news said he had said (deep breath). Therefore, Trump is claiming the news outlet is spreading fake news and could sue them for lying.
There’s one thing missing. Fake news is still young. It’s just starting. Moreover, there are few court cases alleging it and requesting punishment for it. However, fake news has become part of regular conversation among friends talking about the state of the world, what Trump’s done in his first week, etc. The addendum to any of these conversations is usually “who knows if any of that is true.” Then someone mentions the words “fake news” and the conversation ends because there’s no way to add more value to the conversation without possibly saying something false.