Time To Punish Slander And Fake News in the U.S.

Germany is proposing legislation to combat the avalanche of fake “news” by imposing heavy fines on media outlets that disseminate slanderous and defamatory material while doing nothing to try to prevent the publishing of such falsehoods. It would be the opposite of U.S. law, which basically gives immunity to the media outlets that post or carry such often malicious articles.

According to the New York Timesmajor social media firms like Facebook and Twitter may be faced with huge fines, up to $53 million, if they don’t comply with a newly proposed law by Germany’s minister of justice and consumer protection, Heiko Maas. Under the new legislation, firms must implement more stringent controls to prevent and delete posts consisting of “hate speech,” according to the German government’s strict definition.

This law would require social networks to delete or block “obviously criminal content” within 24 hours.

I believe that under the new president, the U.S. may follow the European example. President Trump’s wife, Melania, was a victim of such defamatory “fake news” recently. She sued the media company for $150 million.

But the average firm or individual cannot afford high priced law firms to fight the malicious lies and stories posted somewhere online.

In the U.S., high penalties should be enforced for malicious attempts to destroy a person or business’ reputation for personal gain with falsehoods, lies and insinuations, as well as for those entities that disseminate it. The problem with Germany’s law is that apparently it only punishes the media company, not the originator of the “false news.” But that can be fixed.

Unfortunately, the firms allowing such postings, which include the big search engines we all use, make money on posting such false stories because it attracts viewers, boosting the social media firms’ numbers, which then enables it to charge more to advertisers. In my opinion, that is evil.

From what I’ve seen, only Facebook is doing something to actively search out “fake news.” In the U.S., it has teamed up with a number of independent third-party fact checkers.

Facebook has just announced that it will have a big initiative in Germany to achieve the same goal and compliance with the proposed legislation. In the EU, major Internet companies, including Facebook, have already agreed to combat hate speech with a  code of conduct. Why can’t these companies implement the same code of conduct in the U.S.?

As far as I know, Google has not announced any plans to eliminate blatantly malicious and false postings that are found on its search engine, even when Google has repeatedly been notified and informed of the true facts.

Where is the action based on its motto “Don’t Be Evil” at Google? Oh, I now remember, Google eliminated  that motto in 2015. Does that mean it is now OK? It was replaced by:

“Employees of Alphabet… should do the right thing–follow the law, act honorably and treat each other with respect.”

Well, that doesn’t do it when you are the individual or business targeted by maliciously false postings picked up by Google worldwide, then found by other news services. How about adding to that motto:  “Employees of Alphabet will do their utmost to eliminate false news and will not aid in any way malicious attackers on a person’s or company’s reputation.”

These large social media and Internet search firms hide behind an out-of-date law that they say protects them from liability in posting such lies and defamatory statements. It’s appalling. What would Sergey and Larry say if they were the targets of such malicious postings?

These firms continue to leave such defamatory postings online for years, even after they have been notified by numerous readers that the postings are false and malicious. Such articles are often aimed at destroying the reputation of someone especially as part of an “extortion” attempt. Meanwhile, these firms and search engines continue to make money on the “clicks” or “views” each posting generates. It would be appropriate for them to recognize that they must have a procedure in place to prevent that.

Members of Congress must become aware of this despicable situation and the need to take action. They must take a look at Germany as an example, and even do better.

Why is this important for investors? If the US Congress takes up the topic of following Germany’s example with such a law, the Social Media stocks could be hit for a while. In the long-term, however, it would be beneficial for them, as it would make the articles on their sites more trustworthy.

Conclusion: In this digital age, new methods to carry out criminal actions have been developed by devious and unethical people, including lawyers. The laws haven’t kept up with the changes. Those people with the best reputation are easily the best targets for extortion because they have something valuable to protect. Those stories also get the most attention.

You can’t attack someone’s reputation if he doesn’t have one. I have been dismayed that lawyers participate in these acts in order to pressure a settlement.

This must stop. Federal and state laws must prevent such outrageous and malicious acts.  A new law should not only target the carriers of these malicious articles, but anyone enabling it, such as public relations firms, lawyers, and online search firms.

It’s time for the U.S. Congress to formulate a plan to solve the widespread issue of digital age defamation and slander.

Wishing you successful investing,

Bert Dohmen,

Founder Dohmen Capital Research, Inc.
Celebrating its 40th year of excellence in un-biased Research