Spanish Government Moves Ahead With First 'Fake News' Prosecution

from the minimum-six-months-for-being-wrong-about-stuff dept

In 2018, the Spanish government amended its Data Protection Law to align it with European regulations like GDPR. While doing so, it slipped in an amendment that targeted “fake news,” adding to an already-problematic law that enshrined the “right to be forgotten” and mandated personal data deletion after a certain period of time.

The amendment made the bizarre assertion that the existence of fake news somehow harmed Spanish citizens’ free speech rights.

The text of the amendment proposes making administrators of social media, digital platforms and similar services the guarantors of truthful information. To this end, “effective protocols” should be adopted to, if necessary, “eliminate content that violates the constitutional right to freely communicate or receive truthful information through any means of communication.”

The government could have limited itself to fighting questionable speech with less-questionable speech. In fact, it did do this. It hired fact checkers to debunk misinformation being spread on social media ahead of the 2019 elections. The fact-checkers performed real-time debunkings to slow the dissemination of misinformation by political groups and their allies.

Spain elected a new government last Sunday. But, on Saturday, the day when the law forbids campaigns and candidates asking for votes, social media (especially WhatsApp and Facebook) was completely flooded by misinformation.

Newtral and Maldito Bulo, the two verified members of the International Fact-checking Network, were there to work hard.

On the last week of the campaign, they both live fact-checked two TV debates in a row — each one of them with four candidates.

But that’s not all the government did. It sent the cops out to literally police speech.

A team of more than 100 Spanish police officers will trawl the internet for signs of fake news and cyber attacks in the build-up to next month’s snap election, the interior ministry said on Friday.

Officials will keep a particularly close eye on Facebook, its WhatsApp messaging app, Twitter and other social media networks under a security plan to protect the vote, the ministry added.

It’s unclear what the punishment is for spreading fake news. The law provides for a jail sentence of up to two years for violators, but that’s tied to the publication of information that “compromises the dignity” of a protected group. It doesn’t say anything specifically about fake news.

All that seems to be clear at this point is that the “effective protocols” involve government prosecutors. Fake news has been addressed successfully by government fact checkers but now this same government has decided to punish someone for saying the wrong things online.

Spanish public prosecutors said Friday they have filed the country’s first lawsuit against the spread of ‘fake news” which targets a woman who tweeted a video falsely claiming to show migrant children harassing a teacher in Spain.

The video, which shows several students overturning desks and insulting a teacher, was in fact filmed in May at a school in Brazil in Sao Paulo state, AFP’s fact-checking team established in September.

Since the government has already publicly denounced the posting as fake and published information about its true origin, it’s unclear why it felt the need to move forward with a lawsuit against the person posting it. But it’s doing it anyway. Right now, only a judge stands between the Spanish government and its first fake news prosecution.

A judge at a court in Sant Feliu de Llobregat near Barcelona will now have to decide whether or not to accept the lawsuit. Public prosecutors can appeal if the judge decides against hearing the case.

It seems like the same goal could be achieved with the public debunking that has already happened, which amply demonstrated this person isn’t a trustworthy source of information. This prosecution needlessly adds injury to insult. Spanish citizens are going to engage in a lot more self-censorship if they believe they might be prosecuted simply for being wrong. And they’ll engage in ever more self-censorship if they think anything they say might be perceived as “humiliating” to a protected group.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Spanish Government Moves Ahead With First 'Fake News' Prosecution”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

This isn’t solved with punishing fake news, but rather, by having reliable information sources.

That is, what journalists should be and they aren’t, as they are told by their overlords (AKA those who pay them) what to write about and how.

Fake news? What do you do when your journalists are as reliable and truthful as a blog or twitter? And that’s being generous with them.

The moment journalists stop telling people what to think and they just give them the information to do the thinking by themselves, then we start talking.

Anyway, this legislation is a bad idea and will probably get challenged in court if not declared straight unconstitutional. The ECHR and Constitutional Court in Spain have been quite harsh with a few freedom of speech incidents like:

  • Willy Toledo case being sued for shitting God (it’s in our penal code).
  • Cesar Strawberry case.
  • An incident related to burning the King’s pictures.
    So, even if the government comes with this shit, I’m pretty sure it won’t go too far either way.

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Anonymous Coward Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Older Stuff
10:43 California Governor Signs Bill Forbidding The Use Of Rap Lyrics As Criminal Evidence (12)
10:45 The Onion Files Hilarious Amicus Brief In An Important Case, And Actually Makes A Key Point In The Best Way Possible (23)
09:31 There Are Real Threats To Free Speech Everywhere. Cancel Culture Is Far Down The List (338)
10:44 Germany's Government Continues To Lock People Up For Being Extremely Online (18)
09:35 Saudi Prosecutors Are Targeting A US Citizen For Tweets Criticizing The Government (18)
13:36 Finally, Some Good News: Federal Anti-SLAPP Law Introduced (9)
16:43 5th Circuit Rewrites A Century Of 1st Amendment Law To Argue Internet Companies Have No Right To Moderate (625)
12:03 Court To Public University: Yeah, It's A 1st Amendment Problem When You Delete Comments You Don't Like (16)
10:46 Judge Blocks 'No Recording Cops Within 8 Feet' Law Even Arizona Cops Don't Want To Defend (6)
09:31 Virginia Court Rejects Prior Restraint, Says Old Law Used In Attempt To Ban Books Is Unconstitutional (18)
12:20 Censorship Starts At Home: Turkish Gov't Controls The Press, Repeatedly Claims It Does Not Control The Press (6)
05:35 Wannabe Censor Ron DeSantis Is Now 0 For 2 With His Censorship Bills: Court Throws Out His 'Stop WOKE Act' As Unconstitutional (34)
09:38 Elon Musk's Legal Filings Against Twitter Show How Little He Actually Cares About Free Speech (35)
12:07 Virginia Politicians Are Suing Books They Don't Like (65)
09:21 Appeals Court Corrects Its Previous Error, Holds That Recording Cops Is A Clearly Established Right (8)
15:27 Federal Court Allows Protesters' First Amendment Suit Against Violent Boston Cops To Continue (26)
19:39 Student Expelled Over Off-Campus Nazi Joke Can Continue To Sue The School, Says Appeals Court (205)
10:42 Twitter Sues Indian Government Over Orders To Block Content (3)
10:47 Policymakers Need To Realize How Any Internet Regulation Will Impact Speech (135)
10:44 More Than Two Thirds Of States Are Pushing Highly Controversial (And Likely Unconstitutional) Bills To Moderate Speech Online (50)
13:38 Australia's Upside Down Internet Liability Policy Shows How Section 230 Enables More Free Speech (87)
09:28 The Moral Panic Is Spreading: Think Tank Proposes Banning Teens From Social Media; Texas Rep Promises To Intro Bill (88)
12:15 Federal Agent Stupidly Threatens Twitter User With Arrest Over Protected First Amendment Expression (57)
09:31 How The Dobbs Decision Will Lead To Attacks On Free Speech; Or, Why Democrats Need To Stop Undermining Free Speech (52)
10:46 Devin Nunes Loses Yet Another SLAPP Suit, This Time In California (21)
09:28 Philippines Orders Critical News Organization, Rappler, Shut Down; Just As Rappler's Founder Argues Against Free Speech (11)
09:19 Clarence Thomas REALLY Wants To Make It Easier For The Powerful To Sue People For Criticizing Them (32)
15:39 Twitter Successfully Quashes Sketchy Copyright Subpoena Over Billionaire's Critic On Twitter (237)
12:14 Giant Private Prison Company Goes To Court To Try To Get Lawyer To Stop Tweeting About Them (15)
10:48 UK Approves Extradition Of Julian Assange, Allowing The US Government To Continue Criminalizing Journalism (46)
More arrow