Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Lying Should Be Expensive

We prosecute people for perjury when they lie under oath. Someone can be sued for defamation if he lies about another person. But it seems that someone can publish fake news with impunity. Yet fake news can cause more widespread damage than perjury or defamation.

Someone who commits perjury can thwart justice in a single court case. Defaming someone can ruin his reputation, and hurt is family. These are both serious evils. But spreading fake news can damage an entire society, causing large groups of people to act based on disinformation.

Those who perpetrate lies to the public can in no way be considered to be acting for the public benefit. One who does such a thing clearly hopes that people will act based on false information; reasoning that people would act differently if they were properly informed. Considering the latest, if the false information that there was pervasive fraud in the recent presidential election had not been promulgated, there would be no protests over the results. This is not to say that protests of themselves are a bad thing. But it is a bad thing to inject disquietude into the populace when there is no reason for it. And it is seriously harmful to convince a large segment of the population that our nation’s electoral system can’t be trusted, since the only alternative is a system where there are no elections.

People who purposely spread false news must be dealt with. But it isn’t the sort of thing that you want to entrust to governments. We know all too well that the machinery of government can be worked to persecute political opponents. But we have a legal system that allows aggrieved parties to bring their own court actions.

The spreaders of fake news eventually must specifically name someone. For example, during the campaign there were voices to be heard saying that Joe Biden is a socialist. That’s a ridiculous accusation. But it very well could have cost him votes. Biden should be able to sue anyone who disseminated that preposterous lie, to include President Trump.

True, Biden is a public figure, and we do have freedom of speech in this country. But that doesn’t mean that he, or any other public figure, must weather disinformation. It simply requires that he prove that anyone he sues for defamation intentionally spoke or wrote of him falsely, or with reckless disregard of the truth. [1] 

But aren’t lying politicians a part of our culture? Indeed. But it should stop. And those victimized should start utilizing the courts against libel and slander. It may seem to some office holders that a better look is to rise above it. On the other hand, it is evident that the unscrupulous are gaining significant advantages from public credulity.

Perhaps if lying started to cost liars money, it would reduce this public nuisance considerably. It would also make our political campaigns a lot more civil.