Fake news has become a real problem. Too many people get their news online, and trust without verifying, and they get bad information. Bad information leads to bad decisions.
It’s amazingly easy to set up an online publication that looks legit. Websites can be created in minutes and the cost of publishing on the Internet is so low, anyone can afford to do it.
Lately we’ve been hearing about fake news of the worst kind – untrue stories created by a foreign country that are designed to influence our elections or create general discontent among the citizens. These are nefarious, but most fake news sites are simply con games.
Con artists create an article with irresistible headlines then set up a web page that is filled with ads from online ad networks. Therein lies the profit – it’s in the advertising sold by the big guys like Google Adsense, media.net, or Adsterra. These online ad networks don’t care about content, they only care about how many people see and click on the ads.
Sometimes the fake news articles step over the line and are outright fraud, or slander – but proving those criminal acts is time consuming, expensive, and difficult. It’s hard because the laws are set up to protect our freedom of speech. Freedom of the press is the bedrock of democracy. Any attempt to outlaw fake news threatens that basic right.
The best solution would be an educated electorate who doesn’t fall for such shenanigans. Unfortunately, not everyone has the ability to see through them. The reality is, people who buy those stories will vote and make purchases, and frankly, need to be be protected from their own gullible natures.
The fact that the fake news stories are just ‘clickbait’ gives us a way to control them. We could make it illegal to profit from spreading slander or fraudulent stories. Anyone advertising on those sites is benefiting from the story, thus making it financially possible to post the fake news. They should be held accountable if that story does real damage. This would protect freedom of speech. The accuser would need to prove harm, but it puts the onus on the advertiser to insure the articles are not malicious or fraudulent in nature.
Let’s get this problem under control before it destroys us.