The advancement of technology is overwhelming and inevitable. However, while it revolutionizes communication on a global scale, enabling easy access to information and taking progress to previously inaccessible places, it can have the opposite effect, with a hidden purpose perpetrated by those who maliciously convert a lie into a truth. In fact, as Joseph Goebbels, minister of Nazi propaganda, said, “a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth”.
Although skeptics refute this expression, claiming that a lie told a thousand times remains a lie told a thousand times, it is undeniable that the consequences of said lie can be disastrous. For example, in multilateral accusations in the Brazilian and international political sphere, or even in a private sphere with ordinary people, as in a recent case published in the press. In it, students manipulated photos of their classmates, placing their faces on naked bodies and sharing the photos on social media.
These may seem like innocuous situations, but they are not. In the aforementioned situation, despite the clarifications or retractions about the falsehoods propagated in these kinds of images, the psychological harm already inflicted upon the adolescents is severe. Another example, in the article from The Washington Post, which published a study indicating that fake news would have been decisive in the election of former President Donald Trump in the USA.
Recently, Universo Online released an interesting article authored by LupaMundi, which was the result of a project with two sponsors: one from International Center for Journalists (ICFJ) via Disarming Disinformation, a program funded by Scripps Howard Fund, and another from International Fact-checking Network (IFCN). The text also includes external checking carried out by the organization Latam Chequea, which is dedicated to combating fake news and disinformation, with websites as Checked and Countering Disinformation. In fact, the ICFJ has a very interesting page on investigating disinformation, providing numerous and important tips for checking the veracity of publicly disclosed information.
The article brought valuable information about a global mapping on the topic. It begins with the map reproduced below covering 5 categories and 24 selected themes, providing an insight into how the issue of fake news is faced by the countries:
The study covered 188 countries out of the 195 c ountries recognized by the United Nations (UN). It was identified that only 35 countries have specific laws in force on combating disinformation, the majority of which are in Europe, that is, 28 of them – 78% of the total. In fact, once again, European countries benefited from legislation sanctioned within the European Union in 2023, bringing obligations and accountability to internet platforms when propagating potential fake news: the Digital Services Act (DSA). It is worth noting that the remaining 7 countries are in Africa and Asia, deserving praise from the international community for the local effort to contain disinformation.
- AFRICA: (i) Ethiopia and (ii) Mauritania
- ASIA: (i) Kazakhstan, (ii) Singapore, (iii) India, (iv) Indonesia and (v) Pakistan
Of the 188 countries surveyed, 115, including Brazil, do not have specific laws against fake news and disinformation. Therefore, other laws are used for this purpose. It is important to highlight that, out of these countries, 47% end up curbing fake new through their respective penal codes, when penalizing violations typified and caused by fake news.
In the case of Brazil, there is the bill (PL) 2630/2020, authored by Senator Alessandro Vieira, from the Citizenship Party in the State of Sergipe. Its purpose is the approval of an ordinary law with the purpose of specifically combating fake news, although its activities mainly focus on the civil and administrative spheres.
Again, out of the 188 countries surveyed, 38 countries do not have any type of regulation regarding the topic, whether directly or indirectly, and do not have legal resources to curb potential fake news. Out of the 11 countries in South America, for example, 8 are in this situation. In fact, 7 countries were excluded from the research due to lack of data: (i) Iceland, (ii) Micronesia, (iii) Dominica, (iv) Niger, (v) Palau, (vi) Suriname and (vii) Antigua and Barbuda.
The issue could have a simple outcome, since spreading a lie is something considered morally wrong by everyone. However, critics of the regulation of the matter blatantly reiterate the issue of censorship, claiming that citizens have the constitutional right to express themselves. This right is supported in the Brazilian Constitution by Article 5, IV, which asserts that “the expression of thought is free, and anonymity is forbidden” and by Article 5, XIV, which asserts that “access to information is ensured to everyone and the confidentiality of the source shall be safeguarded, whenever necessary to the professional activity”.
Another crucial aspect is how to make sure if the news are true or if they are fake. This distinction is not always so easy to pinpoint, which is why it is suggested to read the ICFJ page described above. Furthermore, there are fake news that are disseminated through paid content on internet platforms. It is precisely because of this that the European Union took the initiative to approve the Digital Services Act, as it sought to make platforms that earn income co-responsible for disseminating fake news with no filters.
It is, therefore, undoubtedly a complex topic, considering the nature of fake news, the speed with which they go viral, and the consequences they produce, which can cause greater or lesser damage, specific to an individual or a group of people, and that it can also be carried out by one or multiple authors.