The Washington Post today published an article titled ‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America [no paywall.]

The article lays out examples of how our media (social or otherwise) may be contributing not just to foreign interference with elections, but to domestic tranquility and even government functioning.

The post reports (as news) an American receiving a message saying:

“What viral insanity should we spread this morning?”

and reports the reply as:

“The more extreme we become, the more people believe it,”

Assuming the Post's report itself is true, this shows that fake news is a completely real phenomenon. Putting partisan politics aside, it seems important to recognize this is true because fake news is addictive. I see that in myself, family members, friends and coworkers. No matter how it's politically slanted, fake news is harmful to productivity and rational thought.

Fake news is an effective through virus that often leverages partisan politics, nationality, or religion in its spread. It works because those who believe or like it feel compelled to spread it, much as a cell infected with a biological virus is compelled to spread it.

Fake news is nothing new, its just a new version of yellow journalism and muckraking, but it seems unfortunately immune to deteriorating standards of journalistic and editorial control.

It also seems that the government has a justifiable interest in reducing fake news as many governments have in the past done. But those efforts now seem ineffective in the form fake news now takes.

My concern is solutions should not violate the First Amendment to the US constitution, which says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

So how can a government of the people address the problem as it exists today?

It seems like some limits to the 1st Amendment have been recognized by the courts rather than congress. It seems like the first amendment is not absolute and specifically refers to congress. If we proceed with trial and error of a legislative controls, and judicial challenges, the damage continues to accumulate.

I have to wonder if a motivated executive branch might also somehow be a part of the solution in a way that doesn't threaten true political speech, nor impose standards of political correctness, but focus instead on such malicious viral behavior as the Post article discusses.

P.S. My background is in software, including artificial intelligence (AI.) I believe leaving the problem to companies like Facebook to address with AI is hopeless! Media companies will always have a financial motivation. Answers in that arena seem off-topic.

closed as too broad by Bobson, user2501323, Glorfindel, Andrew Grimm, nelruk Nov 19 '18 at 11:31

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • edited to clarify my question – Burt_Harris Nov 19 '18 at 6:51
  • 2
    The problem with this question is that this is a question&answer website, not a discussion forum. We are here to explain how politics and political processes work. We are not here to brainstorm new solutions to political problems. This doesn't really work with the Stack Exchange system. So you might want to bring up this topic on a more discussion-oriented website. – Philipp Nov 20 '18 at 13:48

There is no direct solution. You can't stop fake news without affecting real news. If you make the government the "sole guarantee of truth" by legitimizing the take-down of information that it doesn't consider true, you open the door for partisan take-down of information the government doesn't want to be true.
It also wouldn't help against information that can't be proven or disproven or that is simply imprecise. For example, "Man made climate change doesn't exist" is false, but "Man made climate change will only increase temperature by 1 degree in 50 years. No danger. We can use more coal." is most likely false. Where do you draw the line?

However, there are indirect solutions. Fake news work mostly, by playing into the preconceptions of those it targets. That means that in order to reduce the effect of fake news, you need to fix the preconceptions. That is nothing that can be done over the course of a few months or a year. It requires a societal change, which can take decades.

In the case of "societal fake news", e.g. "brown people are terrorists" or "unemployed are lazy", exposure to the targets of their preconceptions can help reduce them. It's not perfect, because some people will take those they have contact with as the exceptions to the rule and maintain their preconception against everyone else.

To really get to the root of those preconceptions, you have to start early in life, which means you have to build exposition into your school system. The more you separate pupils by economic, racial or other backgrounds, the less empathy and the more preconceptions they will have later in life.

The case of "alternative facts fake news", e.g. "vaccinations cause autism", is harder to solve. It still builds on preconceptions, but those can't be solved by putting a child in the same room as a bunch of vaccination syringes. They can only be solved by teaching people to think about their preconceptions. People need to learn to think critically about what they hear or read, so that, even if it fits their preconceptions, they don't accept it without proof.

Critical thinking is an important skill, but it is also extremely difficult to learn. That means you need to start early and build it into your educational system. Teach children to think about what they read and they'll learn to detect fake news later in life.

To cut it short, you need an educational reform with emphasis on mixed economical, racial and whatever other backgrounds and a focus on critical thinking skills. It's not a perfect solution, fake news will always exist and it will always be effective against some people, but education is still the first line of defense.


The most common solution is to have some independent means of checking the media and arbitrating disputes. That could be an independent judiciary, or an independent regulator. The advantage of a regulator is that it is generally cheaper than the judiciary, especially for the person making the complaint.



We tax things that we think are soft-addictive like Tobacco, Alcohol, and now even Cannabis in some jurisdictions. We tax gasoline, and countries talk of carbon credits in the Kyoto protocol. Even Nevada prostitutes support a tax on their services!

It seems like we might establish taxes on things that drive Fake News, for example:

An Excise Tax on Advertising Revenues

My observation is that fake news frequently serves as click bait. Even reputable sites tend now to mix "sponsored links" in with news stories, leading to faked pictures drawing clicks.

We might choose to implement some sort of tax credit for sites that demonstrate good editorial controls over not only their own content, but that of their advertisers or other content providers.

Similar ideas invited

I post this incomplete answer to my own question intending to show by example, the sorts of answers I'm looking for. Does it work without violating the 1st amendment?

I'm not sure excise tax is quite the right term, if you know better, please go ahead an edit this answer.

  • Top down won't work. Although there is certainly news that is factually false (we already have methods of dealing with some of it), there is plenty that is merely ambiguous and there is no objective arbiter of fakeness. – Jared Smith Nov 21 '18 at 19:00

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