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  1. The spread of disinformation and malinformation



    Should the deliberate spread of disinformation and malinformation be subject to criminal liability? 


Subject Law and governance Pages 9 Style APA


The deliberate spread of disinformation and misinformation as a subject to criminal liability

The deliberate spread of disinformation is the process of spreading information that is considered false and misleading, whose main aim is to deceive a person of a group of people. A piece of information is considered criminally liable if the information has some illegal content and intent. For information to be regarded as a criminal liability, it must be responsible for a crime and be pegged to a penalty. In some instances, some misinformation that is being spread deliberately can subject to criminal liability, while others might not have the magnitude to be considered criminally liable. For example, gradually spreading disinformation of news that is not confirmed has the extent of creating chaos, panic, or both among citizens can be considered a subject to criminal liability (Elton, Zegal). Elton further describes the victims of such deliberate spread of misinformation, and misinformation can be “celebrities, politicians and normal citizens.” With the presence of freedom of expression, the spreading of fake news at some point does not attract any criminal liability. Therefore, in this paper, we will take a keen analysis of the deliberate spread of disinformation and misinformation and in which instances they can be categorized as a criminal liability or not.

With the invention of the internet during the 1990s, its primary purpose was to access information for public use. Its growth has attracted a lot of untruthful and misleading information (Sadiku, Eze, Musa 186). Deliberately spread of disinformation is majorly carried out through the social media platforms and some websites which major on fake news. According to  Sadiku, Eze, and Musa, “Facebook users play a major role in feeding into misinformation. The contents can be relayed among users with no third-party fact-checking or editorial judgment.”

For a clear understanding of the magnitude of misinformation or fake news that is spread deliberately, we will look into the different types of fake news, which are clickbait, propaganda, opinions, and humorous information. Most of this disinformation is not subject to criminal liability. Clickbait majorly consists of false and highly exaggerated stories intending to generate clicks within the website, hence increasing ad revenue. Propaganda comprises stories that are majorly deceptive to uphold the author’s agenda; majorly used by politicians to promote their manifestos. Such information does not have any criminal weight; hence is not subjected to any criminal liability.

People’s attempt to intentionally deceive others into communicating a message enables the victims to believe the information being passed, which they initially never thought of. The deliberate distribution of misleading information can affect the distribution of power within society (Brennen 3). The freedom of expression has made such a deliberate spread of disinformation and misinformation not to be subjected to any criminal liability. They depend on the victim’s willingness to accept such misleading information or deny them. Deliberate spreading of disinformation may lead to the victims being in a state of dilemma and confusion regarding what is considered valid, “doubts about accurate understandings and subsequent reliance of falsehood” (Rapp, Salovich 232).

Furthermore, the consequences of such types of misleading information are mild and can be easily controlled; hence can be considered to lack criminal liability. For instance, the confusion that is brought about by misleading information can be governed with the help of prior knowledge and past experiences. Rapp and Salovich give out an example of a statement, “Ronald Reagan was assassinated by John Hinckley Jr.” such ideas which are affirming should be researched first to avoid being misled. Such misleading information does not have a critical impact on an individual or a society; hence cannot be categorized as criminally liable.

The concept of deliberate spread of disinformation and misinformation to be subject to criminal liability can also be analyzed concerning the impacts of the type of information. For instance, propaganda is “information of various stripes presented as real but is patently false, fabricated or exaggerated to the point where it no longer corresponds to reality” has mild impacts on society. Propaganda used by government agencies to attract the favor of netizens of politicians who use propaganda to sway their supporters to vote for them are majorly ideological and are not against the rule of law.

The deliberate spread of misleading and fictitious information can also convince the population of something that is not valid. For instance, “a group of birthers claimed Obama has been born outside the United States and was therefore not eligible to assume the presidency” (Lewandowsky et al. 106). As much as that kind of misleading statement has a significant impact on the presidential candidate, such information can be researched to obtain the truth. Hence, it is right to say such information was used as a political strategy.

Another instance is when the Hong Kong government in the 1980s abolished the fake news crime concerning human rights. The common law provided a guideline in which such deliberate passing of misleading information can be categorized to have criminal liability. “Unless it involves defamation or is restricted by specific written law such as bomb hoaxes and certain other violations of the securities and futures ordinance” (Elton, Zegal). Therefore, vices such as rumors do not attract any criminal liability. 

However, the deliberate spread of disinformation and misinformation can be subject to criminal liability if it includes actions such as defamation or intrusion of a person’s privacy. Defamatory statements on social media platforms have been so eminent. Social media users have outraged some events with hateful comments, which are also false. “This wave of false and harmful information has caused many individuals to lose their jobs and suffer severe emotional trauma” (Batza 429). Batza further states that the provision of defamation law has provided recovery guidelines for defamation victims as they are considered persons whose reputation has been disparaged wrongfully. Defamation is one of the desperate spreads of misinformation that meets the threshold for attracting criminal liability. Defamation law provides principles that balance the rights of free speech and freedom of expression and protect people’s reputations.

Another instance of deliberate spreading of disinformation and misinformation that can be subjected to criminal liability is the 2016 United States presidential election. Russia was accused of interfering with the presidential elections “by employing a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the united states. A Russian entity carried out a campaign to favor Donald Trump” (Mueller 1). 

Elizabeth Warren started a campaign aimed at combating disinformation by establishing new laws that would have severe civil and criminal penalties to those who deliberately disseminate the kind of information that Russia was accused of as it had an explicit purpose of undermining the fundamental rights of voters (Kann 15). She stated that “online disinformation sought to depress voters turnout by telling people they could vote via text, giving people the wrong date for election day and more.”

The intrusion of privacy is another form in which deliberate dissemination of false information can attract criminal liability. Hackers can infiltrate an individual’s personal information and use them against their will to spread disinformation and misinformation. Such acts are considered to be subjected to criminal liability, and individuals who are found in such acts has to face the court. Disclosure of a person’s information without their consent and use of such information in passing misinformation or with a deliberate intention of exposing their personal lives is considered a violation of private data privacy ordinance and hence are subjected to criminal liability. Bernal (par 2) states that Facebook has been the face of misinformation and misinformation and a lot of trolls. Most people using the social media website use fake accounts to hide their identities to disseminate disinformation and male information deliberately and, at the same time, hide their identities. Such practice is considered a crime, and with the development of technologies, the software can track such people’s IP addresses, hence locating their location.

Deliberate spreading of disinformation that devalues and delegitimizes an institution or an individual are considered criminal. Such information undermines the trust and how genuine such individuals or institutions are (Sadiku, Eze, Musa 188). For instance, deliberately spreading information that delegitimizes a government institution or organ is considered a criminal offense, hence attracting criminal liability. Therefore, the impacts of the gradually spreading of disinformation can result in conflicts, trauma, or even war. “it can cause confusion and moral panic and eventually undermine an informed citizenry” (Sadiku, Eze, Musa 188).

Evaluation of sources from which such disinformation comes is a crucial step for detecting fake news. Sources that are not credible are likely to spread fake news. Consultation of experts such as information professionals enables the public to be informed and avoid any misguidance.

Developing a culture that promotes truth is key in fighting disinformation and misinformation. Stringent laws and regulations should be put in place to curb deliberate misinformation, disinformation, and any other methods to undermine the access or passing of accurate information. Media literacy should be practiced to the latter. It will enable individuals to think critically when consuming different types of information and allow social media thinkers to critically think and analyze the impacts of disinformation before sharing them.

In conclusion, for the deliberate spread of disinformation to be subjected to criminal liability, there are some criteria that such information must achieve.  Disseminating disinformation with the capacity of defamation and intrusion of an individual’s privacy is considered against the law hence attracting criminal liability. Disinformation that affects an individuals’ rights is also evaluated against the law, therefore a criminal offense. Some rules have been put in place to ensure those going against the law are brought to book. However, other forms of deliberately spreading disinformation are considered harmless and are not subjected to any criminal liability. At some levels, propaganda is deemed to be harmless the does not affect any human rights. Social media platforms being one of the major ways in which information is passed, media literacy should be practiced so as to curb disinformation.


Batza, Cory. “Trending now: The role of defamation law in remedying harm from social media backlash.” Pepp. L. Rev. 44 (2016): 429. https://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2438&context=plr.

Bernal, Paul. “why privacy is the key to Facebook’s fake news problem.” The internet newsletters for lawyers. (2019). https://www.infolaw.co.uk/newsletter/2019/01/privacy-key-facebooks-fake-news-problem/.

Brennen, Bonnie. “Making sense of lies, deceptive propaganda, and fake news.” Journal of Media Ethics 32.3 (2017): 179-181.https://epublications.marquette.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1491&context=comm_fac.

Elton, Will. “Are You Liable for the Things You Post Online?” zegal. https://zegal.com/blog/post/liable-for-what-i-post-online/.

Lewandowsky, Stephan, et al. “Misinformation and its correction: Continued influence and successful debiasing.” Psychological science in the public interest 13.3 (2012): 106-131. http://www.emc-lab.org/uploads/1/1/3/6/113627673/lewandowskyecker.2012.pspi.pdf.

Mueller III, Robert S. “Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election. Volumes I & II.(Redacted version of 4/18/2019).” (2019). https://kritisches-netzwerk.de/sites/default/files/robert_mueller_-_report_on_the_investigation_into_russian_interference_in_the_2016_presidential_election_-_march_2019_-_geschwaerzt_zensiert_0.pdf.

Rapp, David N., and Nikita A. Salovich. “Can’t we just disregard fake news? The consequences of exposure to inaccurate information.” Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences 5.2 (2018): 232-239. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nikita_Salovich/publication/327479180_Can’t_We_Just_Disregard_Fake_News_The_Consequences_of_Exposure_to_Inaccurate_Information/links/5ce4187d299bf14d95af269a/Cant-We-Just-Disregard-Fake-News-The-Consequences-of-Exposure-to-Inaccurate-Information.pdf.

Reilly, Ian. “F for Fake: Propaganda! Hoaxing! Hacking! Partisanship! and Activism! in the fake news ecology.” The Journal of American Culture 41.2 (2018): 139-152. https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/55581819/F_for_Fake_-_Reilly.pdf?1516367133=&response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DF_for_Fake_Propaganda_Hoaxing_Hacking_Pa.pdf&Expires=1607711427&Signature=Qre6ss8VunLitg-mIeOiimLfkr09SagRloYlftXRlyyQk7skhlxQnqq~5xDogMd51bfS5Gerk3yrxs~9tSsWFirBH1NuTRh8GlNKaB24TiBdfXi1ppyg6xzRdO~EzwoYtHjGhGCY0qBMs7uGGZmi-PzzfWYfre0KOwfxehrKEwuyVfbplC9l3ddN-~IsTKTHwtcKBs~b6GCffBkBTGdvQStNpHfPU1OWebclbQ2alewu6dKpcw4~E6r3pS9MC02Q3yMGRoCi0UsVTklfUss0tJPIXG8igsa-GfopQaG~YLVM99pIcUzAZNU6Gkv4JoNNX500aFNMzGCiixS8IRm4Zg__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA.

Sadiku, Matthew NO, Tochukwu P. Eze, and Sarhan M. Musa. “Fake news and misinformation.” International Journal of Advances in Scientific Research and Engineering 4.5 (2018): 187-190. https://d1wqtxts1xzle7.cloudfront.net/56753969/32728.pdf?1528442398=&response-content-disposition=inline%3B+filename%3DFAKE_NEWS_AND_MISINFORMATION.pdf&Expires=1607710650&Signature=PKG7~SNPeE2eUG5YYQ4zFfPkcDORDcC9MG3X5arjV~3Ap-GU6obhBwwMBZD2zw~~N~FnUJT-E1T~3d60QYG-RIMaQ4BfA5bJPPtIaiZaealQjFY0fCHDUdYvyeqK7HHdwZfftnWqSqUJMQcA~nB1JIqlFfVlPWYCNiNGdTyZEmGLg3eVx35qCYO3zjtuySKpufApHffQOy5saILFIlMaV6xYyWyKlJkx1aey9MdtkH9J9ffepsdReiUw4s-73OSH1fSCbAk8QISrIWx9ltr1YhtVKUd8zHD~rfyV5S3hfnFi-8FvaXE1r431LCSqTcHkrQ4eRpODyBERy2Tu5GTkag__&Key-Pair-Id=APKAJLOHF5GGSLRBV4ZA.


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