It was not that long ago that people depended on printed newspapers to learn about happenings in the world around them. As the world began to go digital, many legitimate newspapers and magazines made the switch, allowing commuters to scan headlines on their tablets and smart phones as opposed to relying on physical papers. As people come to rely less on legitimate news sources and more on social media however, a spate of fake news stories has begun wrecking havoc on both individuals and businesses.
The staff and patrons of Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria in Washington D.C., are currently the most famous victims of fake news stories. Earlier in December, a man who claimed to be “self-investigating” a series of conspiracy theory reports disguised as legitimate news stories that had spread around social media, entered the pizzeria. After brandishing a gun at an employee, he opened fire. Miraculously no one was hurt. The pizzeria has also received numerous death threats.
Derigan Silver, a professor of media at the University of Denver says that fake news stories, like the ones that have circulated about Comet Ping Pong, are clear examples of defamation. In an interview with NPR he stated “Fake news sites are clearly a situation where they’re engaging in a defamatory statement, a false statement about another that damages that person’s reputation.”
The professor went on to explain that anyone who communicates the defamatory statement is liable under the law. This means that not only can the victim(s) hold the original creator of the defamatory statement responsible, they can also seek reparation from anyone who helped spread the information.
He gave an example of some cases from Texas where hundreds upon hundreds of people were sharing and adding to a defamatory posting. “If you can track those people down, if you can find out those identities, then yes, you can sue every single person who sort of adds to that defamatory statement or repeats that defamatory statement,” said Silver.
Source: NPR.org, “What Legal Recourse Do Victims Of Fake News Stories Have?,” December 7, 2016