Spot Fake News With This Basic Legal Analysis

May 28, 2019

As new platforms for disseminating information proliferate, it can be difficult to know exactly what news is reliable and what is “fake news.” As the 2020 election cycle ramps up, being able to spot questionable sources is critical, especially for attorneys. In his program A Perfect Storm: The Intersection of Fake News, Celebrity Endorsements, and Social Media, attorney Joseph Rosenbaum discusses some of the key elements to analyze when examining a piece of fake news for truthfulness:


  1. Can you determine from whom or where the information originated? A news article whose content has been reported in just one source, with no original reporting, or where the news outlet is questionable (think of the Daily Mail, or RT), deserves particularly close scrutiny.
  2. Who or what is the subject matter? If the subject is high-profile or controversial - politicians, celebrities, or hot topics of debate, like abortion - it’s more likely to have a “slant” that just might tip it into fake news territory. Think about it this way - no one is making up news stories about the neighbor’s dog.
  3. What is the context? Why is the news being reported or shared? A lot of problematic content is not actually false, but misleading - for example, reporting that a politician took donations from a certain source might look extremely polarizing, but if the donation was from ten years ago, we need to ask why it is being reported now.
  4. Is the information satirical or a parody? Your uncle isn’t the only one sharing Onion articles without realizing that they are satire pieces. Even reliable news outlets have reported on parody pieces as if they were true - like the Washington Post did as recently as 2018.

These tips apply to everyone who is (hopefully) scrutinizing the content they come across with a discerning eye. To learn more about the elements in play when fake news can be a cause of legal liability (such as whether a piece of news can be retracted or corrected easily and effectively), check out the full program, available with your unlimited subscription or Lawline’s Free Trial.

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Author Bio

Written by Sarah Mills

Sarah graduated from Simon's Rock College in 2005 with a BA in Linguistics, then worked in events production for several years before she graduated from New York Law School in 2012. Before joining Lawline, she worked in litigation management as a legal auditor. She loves working as a program attorney as it combines her legal knowledge and production background. She has two kids, two cats, and loves public transit and rainy days.

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