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Fake news may lead to more defamation lawsuits

Apparently, the news isn't always true. In recent years, a growing number of anchor people have embellished the news or made it up completely. With the past election, fake news exploded on social media as supporters of each side attempted to discredit the opposition. However, the rise of fake news stories is bringing with it a rise in defamation lawsuits as people in Ohio and across the country fight to protect something that is nearly impossible to rebuild once lost: a reputation.

Recently, a man walked into a pizza shop with an assault weapon, but he was not there to rob the place. Instead, he claimed he was there to rescue children who were being held as part of a pedophile ring he had read about online. The story was made up, but it was convincing and prolific enough to compel the man to drive to the restaurant with his weapon and investigate for himself.

The media outlets that published the story may now be facing defamation lawsuits if the pizza shop owner decides to seek damages. Defamation occurs when someone publishes false information that does damage to another person's reputation. The tricky part may be determining where the fake news story originated. Technically, the owner of the pizza shop can sue anyone who passed along the fake news about his shop or added more defamatory details to the story.

Some people in Ohio feel that the growing prevalence of fake news is making it harder for people to recognize truth from lies. One thing it certainly has done is to blur the lines of freedom of speech and expression. While those issues are vital to the big picture, individuals like the owner of the pizza shop are mainly concerned about how easily defamatory statements can destroy their businesses. Filing a defamation lawsuit may not be about financial gain as much as it is about recovering one's reputation.

Source: npr.org, "What Legal Recourse Do Victims Of Fake News Stories Have?", Dec. 7, 2016

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