This is my question, based on a hypothetical scenario:

Let's assume that I start spreading a smear campaign against vaccines (which would be ethically and morally wrong to do) using Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks using bots and other automated systems. If enough people start believing in the fake news I am spreading then they might stop giving vaccines to their children the end result of which might be something really bad like a malaria or measles epidemic, in which 1000's of kids might die in multiple states.

So will I be blamed for spreading false Information and would this not be protected under the 1st amendment and I could also argue that it's the fault of the parents who accepted opinion posts (framed as news stories), rather than consulting with actual physicians?

The above scenario was just a hypothetical question. What are the implications of spreading fake news legally?

  • Do you know of any evidence that most modern vaccines have real benefits, or more benefits (in plausible exposure situation) than harm? Also, if someone is not exposed to an infectious disease, the benefit by definition is nil. This is true of many "prevention" drugs where the benefit at most is hypothetical.
    – curiousguy
    Oct 30, 2019 at 22:53

2 Answers 2


It depends on who the news is being spread about and how you do it. If the person or persons (including a company) are not publically known or not generally known to the general public prior to the news spread, Libel/Slander is easier to prove. However, if the targeted person is a "public entity" it can be harder to prove.

Even then, the burden of proof is not on you to prove that the statement is true, but them to prove it is untrue. In addition, if you are a "public entity" you must prove that there was actual malice behind the reporting OR that you knew it was false and did not then stop reporting it. Additionally, you must prove that this false reporting lead to damages to you and associations (though this is the easy part).

A good number of quality journalists will use attribution of potentially false statements (for an organization that has such a terrible relationship with the President, CNN has a lot of sources "Close to the President") or that some people are saying (on Wikipedia, this gets a great big [who?] if an editor sees this in an article. In 24-hour news [who?] tends to be "A guy on one of our prime time shows, which everyone knows is entirely fictitious" or the people ready to debate the topic on actual news shows again, they are making opinion statements, not factual ones... or they are making factual statements when they say "I believe..." or "In my opinion...").

Finally, several states with big media production industries (New York and California) have what's called Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) laws. This allows the defendant (respondant? It's a civil lawsuit) to challenge the entire suit on the grounds that the person suing is doing so to get you to shut up about an issue and not because of any meritorious libel or slander accusation. This requires the judge to decide if the case has merit and if it doesn't drop it entirely.

And finally, in the United States, we also have Anti-Libel Tourism laws. This means that we will not extradite anyone (citizen or not) to a country on any Libel/Slander charges UNLESS those same charges can be won in a US court. This both protects political refugees AND stops people from filing Libel Suits in the UK to get around how respondent friendly the United States courts are on the subject (The UK is more plaintiff friendly).


If you are making money from an intentionally false representation, that might be wire fraud.

Whoever, having devised or intending to devise any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises, transmits or causes to be transmitted by means of wire, radio, or television communication in interstate or foreign commerce, any writings, signs, signals, pictures, or sounds for the purpose of executing such scheme or artifice, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.

The bar, however, is high. The First Amendment protects a lot. They'd basically have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you knew what you were saying was false. (And that's how it should be - people need to be able to talk about things, and sometimes people will be wrong.)

While you could try to make an argument that the parents should have known, that probably won't work. Maybe it's true that they should have known, and maybe they even have some culpability, but that doesn't absolve YOUR actions.

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