The dissemination of disinformation or “fake news” is not a new phenomenon, as it apparently existed even before the invention of the printing press. However, the availability of cyber technology in modern times may facilitate much larger-scale manipulation of political processes by both private individuals and foreign powers.
Potential methods for countering the spread of disinformation in cyberspace, however, may pose challenges to basic principles in democratic societies, including the right to freedom of expression, and the right to privacy, as well as rules regarding transparency and oversight of government actions, among others.
Two recent Law Library of Congress reports examine the legal approaches adopted by a number of countries to address the spread of disinformation using mass and social media, especially in the context of political processes and elections.
Initiatives to Counter Fake News in Selected Countries (April 2019) consists of 15 individual country surveys and a comparative summary. The report highlights legislation in a number of countries that imposes sanctions on social media networks and/or individuals that spread false news, usually imposing fines and ordering the removal of information identified as false. Another approach reflected in the country surveys is to engage election authorities and digital platforms to help ensure a well-informed electorate, either by identifying and blocking fake news, providing fact-checking resources for the general public, or through the mass publication of “real” news during election season and beyond. Some of the countries are also addressing the issue in a more general way by educating citizens about the dangers of fake news.
Limits on Freedom of Expression (June 2019) examines the scope of protection extended to freedom of speech in 13 selected countries. In particular, the report focuses on the limits on such protection that may apply to the right to interrupt, or affect in any other way, public speech that may contain false information by any means of communication, including in cyberspace. The report also addresses the availability of mechanisms to control foreign broadcasters working on behalf of foreign governments.
We invite you to review the information provided in these reports. You can search the Current Legal Topics or Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports for additional reports from the Law Library. To receive alerts when new reports are published, you can subscribe to email updates and the RSS feed for Law Library Reports (click the “subscribe” button on the Law Library’s website).