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The rise of fake news

In 2016, 82% of adults in the UK used the internet on a daily basis compared with just 35% in 2006. Smartphones and mobile devices are the most popular tools for adults to access the internet with 71% accessing through smartphones. Using the internet for social networking on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram has continued to grow rapidly over the last decade with 63% of adults using some form of social media every single day in 2016. In November 2016, Samsung produced a study which found that the average person will spend three years of their lives updating their social media accounts and Facebook’s latest statistics confirmed that they have 1.28 billion daily users.

The growing use of alternative media sources such as blogs, online publications and articles posted on social media has made people question the accuracy of the content they are reading. The term "fake news" has been a predominant buzz word since the 2016 U.S General Election with President Trump consistently accusing major media outlets of publishing fake news.

Fake news can be defined as a story distributed to an audience which appears to be legitimate, but in actuality it is not. Fake news has grown over the last decade due to social media creating a platform that allows people to exchange information to a much wider audience in an easier and more cost effective manner.

Social media platforms have faced pressure recently to better regulate and monitor the content posted on their sites. Facebook in particular has been criticised for not being proactive enough in curtailing the spread of false information.

Social media publishers do not have to follow the same regulatory responsibilities like their traditional media counterparts. Of course, legal action can be pursued when posts are defamatory, invade privacy or are insightful of violence or extremism. Claimants can face difficulty in pursuing a claim for an illegal post online when the identity of the publisher is unknown, or if they are in a different jurisdiction.  Establishing liability against a platform such as Google or Facebook can be difficult, but is not always impossible.  Alternatively, vindication can be sought and obtained even where the defendants are unknown.  Brett Wilson LLP brought the two leading cases in these areas: Tamiz v Google Inc [2013] EWCA Civ 68 and Brett Wilson LLP v Person(s) Unknown, Responsible for the Operation and Publication of the website [2015] EWHC 2628 (QB). Disclosure orders against unknown bloggers can be sought.  Such orders are known as 'Norwich Pharmacal Orders'.  Click here for further information.

Germany is considering implementing legislation which can fine social media platforms fines of up to €50 million should they fail to promptly remove illegal hate speech.  Facebook have expressed concern at the draft law stating that the legislation would “force private companies rather than the courts to become the judges of what is illegal in Germany.”  A short deadline and severe penalties for non-compliance could mean that posts are deleted without proper scrutiny - out of an abundance of caution.  Social media companies say that this will impact on free speech.  The proposed legislation comes as a result of Facebook not complying with the German government's request that to delete hate speech within 24 hours of posting.  Since the draft law has been published, both Twitter and Facebook state they have put additional procedures in place to monitoring hateful posts.

In UK, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (CMS Committee) has launched a parliamentary enquiry into tackling the problem of fake news. The committee will be looking at the definition of fake news, the impact of fake news and the responsibility of the ISP and social media platforms in controlling content published online. The committee is due to publish a report on its findings and recommendations.  Given the recent terrorist authorities in the UK and further criticism of ISPs in not doing enough to tackle extremism, the adoption of a stance similar to that proposed in Germany cannot be ruled out.

Click here to find out how Brett Wilson LLP defamation solicitors can assist you if you have been defamed.


Legal Disclaimer

Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.