Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect views of the Journal, the William H. Bowen School of Law, or UA Little Rock.
By: Patricia Ashford
Tory Lanez’s assault trial showcased how prevalent misinformation is, especially in the world of social media. Tory Lanez was found guilty of three charges, assault with a semiautomatic handgun; carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle; and discharging a firearm with gross negligence. Tory Lanez, whose real name is Daystar Peterson, was found guilty of a July 2020 shooting which left Megan thee Stallion injured. After the shooting, various platforms began running stories with various theories about what really happened. This has continued even after Tory Lanez was found guilty. In the era of misinformation, unless a person is following a truly unbiased source, it is hard to not receive news with a personal slant. In the era of personal blogs becoming profitable and transitioning into blogs that keep tabs on celebrities, these blogs aren’t required to be as honest as news sources. Since there is not the same requirement of honesty or even a requirement of impartial reporting, many blogs post their own opinions and people read them as fact since some people are expecting this person to be reporting accurate celebrity news.
Currently, the internet is a place not regulated by the government. As a result, many people will take to the internet to find like-minded people since it is a place where they are able to talk freely. While regulation of the internet is not something the government should be invested in doing, there is a question of how to stop or even minimize the spread of misinformation. Essentially, the question becomes should people have an obligation to share truthful information if they are aware they have a large platform. I think people should have some form of responsibility when they are aware that they have a platform, and they are aware that people are following them for news. The issue then becomes whether this is something the legal system should be handling or if social media platforms start requiring this. Currently, Twitter has a feature that allows for community members to add a fact checking note to a tweet of a public user. Many have noted that this feature is not perfect since it relies on the public to add facts and when it comes to divisive topics people from both sides will enter conflicting opinions and then the note will not show up for any users. While this feature is not perfect, it is a start towards people beginning to hold people with a platform accountable to show a version of being truthful.
If people want to present themselves as a news source or being a source of celebrity news, there should be some forum that requires them to be honest, and when they are not honest there should be some recourse for celebrities that may be harmed. Some people consider the ability to say whatever they want on the internet as a right that cannot be taken away from them, but when it comes to people trying to present themselves as a reputable source, there should be something that holds individuals accountable. The various stories that celebrity news sources present about the Tory Lanez case only led to people outside of the courtroom being misinformed about what was happening inside the courtroom. When there are cases that the general public are interested in, there should be more options for people to have access to the truth and there should be something holding bloggers that spread misinformation to a standard that requires them to be truthful. Social media is a useful tool for people to spread information but if people want to be news sources, there should be something that requires them to be as truthful as possible.
About the author: Patricia Ashford is a second year law student at the William H. Bowen School of Law. She is a member of the Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Public Service and is a member of the Black Law Student Association.