Obama Considers Executive Order That Could Affect ‘Fake’ News Outlets

President-Obama-Bans-Fake News
Photo by USDAgov via Flickr (CC BY 4.0)

In wake of the controversial 2016 presidential election, President Obama has signed what may be one of his final executive orders. On Monday morning, President Obama signed Executive Order 13749 banning all fake news websites and ensuring penalties ranging from fines/fees to criminal prosecution for those that own and maintain such websites.

In the days after President-Elect Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election the topic of fake news has been one of fierce controversy as many point to a myriad of frequently trending- yet fake news articles that were widely circulated on social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter during the election cycle. According to many critics, the rate in which fake news was circulated online unfairly influenced the results of the election.

President Obama previously indicated that he agrees with the majority of the public that fake news has a negative effect on U.S. society. He recently addressed the topic of fake news during a speech in Berlin by saying – Because in an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and its packaged very well, and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television, where some overzealousness on part of a U.S. official is equated with constant and severe repression elsewhere, if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect. We won’t know what to fight for. And we lose so much of what we’ve gained in terms of the kind of democratic freedoms and market-based economies and prosperity that we’ve come to take for granted.

According to multiple sources, the fake news article that was the apparent “last straw” leading-up to President Obama’s decision to sign Executive Order 13749 was an article run on a fake news website with the misleading domain – www.thebostontribune.com.co. The website was designed to trick readers into thinking that they were reading information from our publication (The Boston Tribune), however – the almost unnoticeable distinction between our website and this fake website was the ‘.co’ added to the end of the domain. When we first learned of the copycat website spreading fake news we contacted the publisher of the misleading website (later identified at Aaron Baker) and asked that the website be taken down immediately – Mr. Baker failed to respond to our request.

The article published by the fake news website is one that many will recognize as it spread rapidly on Facebook and quickly received over 300,000 shares. It featured the headline – “Unmotivated Voters Paid $50 To Cast Democratic Vote”. The premise of the misleading and fake news article was that “unmotivated voters” had been paid $50 to vote for the democratic candidate – Hillary Clinton. The fake news article implied voter fraud and questioned the claim that Presidential Candidate Clinton actually won the popular vote. The fake news article contained images of a fake Craigslist post offering individuals that intended to stay home on election night $50 if the voted for Clinton. According to the fake listing – all the voter had to do was take a picture of their ballot post-vote (as proof) to receive the $50. The website has since been removed, however, we were able to capture a screenshot of the fake Craigslist post and have included it below.

Screenshot of Craigslist posting created by fake news website.

According to government officials, these types of fake news articles are extremely dangerous when spread at a high rate throughout an uneducated public. Obama representative, Douglas Carter, told reporters at a brief press-conference this morning that the decision to ban fake news outlets would result in a huge win for the general public. According to Carter, “The intentionally false information spread by these outlets for profit extends past the publisher’s right of free speech and more closely aligns with dangerous propaganda – and we have laws for that.”

When asked if purveyors of intentionally fake news such as Aaron Baker (the publisher of www.thebostontrinune.com.co) could face legal consequences for their previous actions, Carter told reporters – “That is certainly something that we are looking at. The penalties for intentionally spreading dangerous propaganda can range from costly monetary fines up to 5 years in a federal prison – we recommend all publishers of intentionally fake news close shop immediately.”

It’s currently unclear what processes will be implemented to determine what constitutes as fake news and what Executive Order 13749 will have on alt-right news sources such as Breitbart and InfoWars.