Fake news is false information that is shared among people. Fake news includes anything that is published in the face of contrary evidence of that is published claiming evidence that does not exist. Examples are visible everywhere: what your cranky uncle rants about at Thanksgiving, clickbait news articles, what your gullible friend shares on social media, and what the scammy company claims in their ads.
Fake news is a problem as old as mankind. Thousands of years ago, one of the earliest historians Thucydides said, “So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand.” People are gullible and will believe whatever they are told, so telling lies gains unscrupulous people and advantage in politics, economics, and life.
How can we combat a problem as old as human history?
My suggestion is that we make it people who publish fake news civilly liable. We still need to protect free speech of course.
I would phrase the law something like this: if a person knowingly publishes (verbal or in writing) a statement that has strong evidence against it or falsely claims strong evidence for a claim with weak evidence, that person shall be liable for damages to anyone who trusts that statement or anyone who is damaged by someone who trusts that statement.
An example would be Rudy Giuliani claiming that there was widespread election fraud. He has not provided any evidence of this and he knows (or reasonably should know) his claims are overblown. People have heard his statements and believed him, and thus undermined American democracy. He should be liable for damages to those who have been impacted by his statements. If he instead said, “There may have been widespread fraud and I want investigations”, that would be fine as it is true.
Another example would be an essential oils peddler who falsely claims without evidence that some oil treats cancer when there is no supporting evidence. This peddler should be liable.