Recently the government of Malaysia voted to ban “fake news” as defined by the government. A new law will punish those who spread misleading information by up to six years in prison.
Although the New York Times described the law as the first of its kind, such laws have actually been enacted hundreds of times by governments everywhere.
Throughout the 1600s through the 1800s, all British presses had to be licensed, and governments prosecuted hundreds of people for “seditious libel,” the crime of bringing the government into disrepute. (America’s Founding Fathers all used alias names when they published political letters, knowing they faced punishment if they were identified.)
(Today in the U.S., pro-government forces call such anonymity “dark money,” and prosecute such speakers and publishers for campaign-finance violations.)
The EU has also launched a committee to study the issue. In the U.S., major platforms such as Facebook and Google (upon the urging of government officials) have launched efforts to censor “fake news” (meaning, mostly, news critical of government or offering an anti-government philosophy).
The government of Turkey has imprisoned dozens of journalists for circulating what the government calls fake news.
Now there is news that the government of India has backed away from similar plans to ban “fake news.” The Wall Street Journal reports that “India withdrew plans on Tuesday to punish journalists judged to be promoting “fake news” after widespread criticism that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was trying to muzzle the press.”