Fake news - a
major threat to the work for promotion of rule of law and human
Asian Human Rights Commission
January 23, 2020
The world over a great
threat has emerged against civilization as a whole. This is the
power of fake news used with the technological assistance of a
highly sophisticated modern technological industry. A vast body of
daily reports of all types are spread through the internet and
These publications cannot
be held accountable for the truth or falsehood of what they publish.
There are so many ways of circumventing even a proper attribution of
a credible source for such information. All the legal principles
used earlier regarding print media cannot be used effectively
against the spread of false news items. Examples are the Laws of
deformation, fraud or misinformation leading to damage for
individuals or property. And this legal vacuum cannot be easily
overcome. The fake news makers are aware of these limitations with
regard to accountability. They can spread whatever they wish to
spread without accepting any responsibility for their acts.
What makes such fake news
so powerful is the fact that such news can be spread instantly to
vast audiences within a very short time, counted by minutes or
seconds. The very fact of publishing and distributing material on a
vast scale creates a kind of impression--if the news is so spread
there must be some truth behind whatever is being published. These
impressions are the stuff with which credibility is attained about
any sort of news. And now fake news uses this situation to their
Countering fake news is a
very difficult, arduous and time-consuming exercise. To erase the
impressions created by a single news item or a fake letter sent to a
number of persons can take years. Fake news writers professionalize
the creation of such fake news. Out of their own imagination they
make up a variety of stories looking at which is impossible to
dismiss altogether. Most people who get such news do not have the
time to look for verification. They may even dismiss such news items
at a conscious level. However such information does make
impressions. These impressions give rise to doubts which lead to
behavior and reactions which may affect other persons adversely or
There are different
tactics adapted by fake news writers, such as selecting words, that
may arouse a certain dislike or repugnance on just hearing them. For
example, a fake news writer may refer to a person as not
credit-worthy, with a bad reputation or having engaged in activities
which society may condemn. Or, perhaps, calling someone an
anti-Semite or a sexual abuser when there is no basis for these
accusations or others like embezzlement, fraud or similar
allegations. With that, goes adjectives, which create the feeling
that the person or the organization referred to, is quite bad. By
using such questionable words they can create mass impressions.
These impressions are in articles which of themselves do not have
any kind of real information or any provable actual information.
All over the world today
we are seeing this in terms of electoral politics, whether it be in
the United States of America or in Great Britain. This also includes
almost every other country where enormous amounts of false
accusations are lodged against popular political leaders. The main
idea in promulgating such fake news items is to create bad and wrong
impressions. As a result, at the polls, people may have doubts in
supporting such a person or cause.
In third world countries
this situation is even worse. A few persons who may have access to
mass media channels could create a virtual reality which has nothing
to do with the actual situation of a country. They effect this by
hiring persons with an ability to engage in this kind of manufacture
and distribution of particular fake news stories.
The worst aspect is that
criminal justice institutions when manipulated by authoritarian
governments can develop its own fake news industry. Before a person
is arrested or exposed to some serious charges a huge campaign could
be developed. So, when the actual violation of the rights takes
place many people begin to have doubts as to whether these
allegations can, in fact, be true. Such doubts prevent immediate
reactions to what appears to be blatantly unjust and violative acts
of the basic rights of the individual. This lack of resistance can
also be a factor in discouraging persons who are more knowledgeable
about the situation. Their intention was to place the truth before
people in society as the fake news industry overtakes them and
creates false impressions at every turn.
Worse affected in this are
the people who express dissent. In the past the very fact of
representing dissent carried a certain moral prestige. Today, more
and more with the use of fake news, industrial dissent can be
discredited by attributing multiple motives to it. How do they do
it? They portray a person or organization as agents of people having
such agendas. They represent such dissent not as people who are
exposing a worthy cause. They are doing these things for their own
personal or political agendas.
This situation creates
enormous demoralization and discouragement among persons who want to
stand up for what they think is right and reasonable. Standing up to
what they think is wrong, morally wrong and unreasonable, is less
and less attractive. Any efforts in getting involved in genuine
protests against people raises more problems than could be imagined.
Both the fake news
industry and the criminal underground often have very close links.
When the fake news industry portrays some person or organization as
not credit-worthy or having anti-social or anti- patriotic agendas,
then the criminal gangs could be mobilized to attack such persons.
This is constantly taking place with many reports coming in weekly
of such attacks. Here the interested parties mobilize the criminal
gangs to do what they want. If any blame is placed it will be on the
criminal gangs rather than on individual persons who are the real
motivators of such attacks.
The direct victim of the
fake news industry is the Criminal Justice System as a whole. This
means the Police investigating systems, Attorney Generalís
Department (Prosecutorís office) and the Judiciary itself. The fake
news industry could even attack the Courts because they could hide
their identities. The Courts themselves, by their very profession,
are unable to engage in such activities as social media in order to
defend themselves. While cases are filed for wrong reasons by
interested parties, massive propaganda that percolates through the
fake news may create another kind of trial. Serious crimes committed
by accused persons thereby develops another kind of attack on the
criminal justice system which is the trial by publicity.
There are two ways that a
trial by publicity takes place. One is to portray a person or any
group as guilty of what they are being accused of, thereby making
them the target of social attacks. Then exert pressure on them. They
would rather seek to find a compromise or a sentence of mitigation
rather than to fight their cases in public. Public trials on
sensitive cases become more and more dangerous for the public.
The second way the fake
news industry affects criminal trials is by making or portraying the
complainant as not a credit-worthy person. Therefore, the whole
story about the violation is in fact made up. For example, if a
murder takes place, this sensational type of news spreads quickly.
Perhaps it was due to some personal affair than to a deliberate,
intentional killing of someone in particularly. But it could be that
someone happens to be a politically interested person, trying to
achieve his or her aims through murder. Or it may be a woman
subjected to rape or even gang rape. The fake news industry then
will begin to spread derogatory remarks about the complainant. In
such cases they make them appear to be persons of a bad character or
a person making up these stories for some other dubious purpose.
A further way by which the
fake news industry affects criminal trials is through various
pressures created through false news events in the investigation of
crimes. The investigators themselves get these investigations
accredited without any real grounds for doing so. It makes the whole
exercise of the investigation simply due to political purposes. And
for a particular crime, things such as the murder of a journalist or
an attack on some groups or persons or corruption are not motivated
by genuine reasons.
The result of all these
explorations is: the investigators themselves running an
investigation are otherwise punished. This is based on a massive
propaganda campaign which goes to discredit persons who are involved
Another section of people
who are seriously affected by the fake news industry are the human
rights defenders themselves. Human rights defenders are engaged in
numerous activities which include: defending the civil and political
rights of others, defending environmental rights, fighting against
corruption, defending the right of freedom of expression or assembly
and lastly the rights for education and health. All these persons
could be brought under severe attacks by the fake news spreading
that all these activities are motivated not for altruistic reasons
but for personal gain. In addition, there is corruption and other
things involved in these activities or these activities are purely
the propaganda work of interested powerful countries whose sole
ambition is to destabilize other countries. Therefore, nationalism
could be evoked against the human rights defenders who are often
brought into disrepute and doubts about their work. The fake news
even reaches the agencies funding support for these groups. They
provide completely false information about allegations such as
sexual abuse which has never happened or corruption or fraud or the
like for which there is not the slightest evidence. And quite
manipulatively these fake news makers use the languages or ethics
that are respected in the West. They are trying to show that the
ethical codes honored in the West have been violated by the groups
that they support.
The fake news industry is
not only widespread but it is also sophisticated and very subtle.
Therefore, in the years to come, protecting and promoting the work
towards the Rule of Law and human rights, will certainly be attacked
manifold through these fake news channels and individuals. So we see
that what is needed is to develop ways of dealing with these issues.
In particular, the human rights and democratic organizations
themselves should develop their own capacity to deal with in-coming
information. They need a way to capably counteract problems in their
initial stages, thus controlling the damage easily created by the
fake news conglomerates.
Discussions by the public
should necessarily involve discussions on the impact of fake news.
Specifically, impact on humane causes, ways of evolving global
consensus and dealing with this enormous threat--not only to the
work of human rights and democracy but to civilization as a whole.