The Criminal Law in the Republic of Latvia does provide criminal liability for persons reporting fake news, but it is nevertheless necessary to form a separate institution to monitor the spread of such news in the internet, says Interior Affairs Ministry’s parliamentary secretary Evika Siliņa.
She says the growing fake news problem is a problem not only in Latvia but in many other countries, as well.
In Germany, for example, there is a separate law that provides the state with the rights to punish internet portal owners for spreading disinformation if said portal has at least two million users and if it receives more than 100 complaints regarding illegal contents a year. The penalty for this may reach EUR 50 million.
Although Latvia’s State Police has already performed the first ever arrest in Latvia of a person for publishing fake news, Interior Affairs Ministry believes State Police should not be bothered with monitoring internet content. This task should be undertaken by other institutions. If publication of fake news is noticed on a regular basis on a website and owners do not react, police may be asked to step in.
In the aforementioned criminal case, the persons arrested by police are accused of hooliganism. However, Siliņa says hooliganism on the street is no different from hooliganism in the digital environment. At the same time, it will be interesting to observe the judge’s verdict in this case, because it may set an example for any future cases.
«What’s most important is the meaning of the law, not its letters. Adding the term ‘disinformation’ to the Criminal Law will not do anything on its own,» said Siliņa.
In July, Cyber Crimes Prevention Office commenced a criminal process based on complaints submitted by several businessmen and state officials regarding news associated with state security threats, which had caused a major public resonance. Fake news had a major impact on public peace and function of multiple businesses and state institutions tasked with responding to emergencies.
Police concluded in their investigation that there are at least seven websites containing similar content. These include: tv-play.lv, neticams.net, redzams.lv, redzams.net, kasjauns.net, parvisu.net and atklats.com. All of them are maintained by several persons to spread fake news on social media to mislead users and attract them to check out fake news on their websites.
Persons had intentionally published fake information regarding different disasters, traffic accidents, cataclysms, and accidents, including collapse of a supermarket, a plane crash, bus collision and other fake news to try and attract as wide an audience as possible.
For every user attracted using fake news, the persons responsible received money from advertisement companies, who gladly post advertisements on such websites. Income from such activity depended on the number of visitors.