United States: SEC Crackdown On "Fake News" Is Itself Fake News

On April 10, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed sweeping charges against 27 companies and individuals that it accused of a simple stock promotion scheme — namely pretending that they were providing independent and objective analyses when in fact they were being paid to tout a stock.

The case has garnered much attention in an age when there's a raging debate about how to combat "fake news." One headline about the SEC case blared: "SEC Signals No Patience for Fake News on Stocks."

If only that were true. Unfortunately, commentators are ignoring an uncomfortable fact: the SEC is quick to jump on issuers for all kinds of perceived wrongdoing — including making overly optimistic statements or paying for promotion — but it rarely pursues short sellers, the name for investors who make money when stock prices go down, not up. These individuals daily spew misleading or downright false information in order to turn a quick profit and deserve more scrutiny from the SEC.

This enforcement imbalance deceives potential investors, damages existing shareholders, and harms innovation as emerging companies struggle against the steady drumbeat of deceptive information disseminated by short sellers.

The new SEC chairman ought to seize on this issue and direct his enforcement staff to right this imbalance and go after those who intentionally spread malicious information about U.S. companies.

The SEC's April 10 sweep focused on bullish commentary disguised as independent and objective research, which appeared in Seeking Alpha, Benzinga and similar websites. In reality, corporate issuers had paid promoters to write the articles and comments. The SEC alleged violations of a specific statute, Section 17(b) of the Securities Act of 1933, which requires publishers of information about securities to disclose if they were compensated for their opinions. In the more egregious cases, the SEC also brought fraud charges against both the promotional firms and the issuers who paid them.

Although the media treated the SEC's announcement as groundbreaking, the Commission has been bringing similar cases for years. All the way back in 1998, while we were still in the era of dial-up internet service, the SEC brought an even larger sweep under Section 17(b) against 44 defendants, and has brought numerous cases since.

While it is salutary that the Commission is again going after unscrupulous stock touts, it is troubling that the SEC has not shown the same appetite to reign in the far more abusive practice of short sellers who initiate or pay for misleading hit pieces on U.S. companies. Occasionally, SEC officials have talked tough, such as former Chairman Christopher Cox's colorful 2008 promise that "the Commission will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who manipulate markets with this witch's brew of damaging rumors and short sales." Yet, the promised enforcement crackdown never came. As a 2013 article concludes, the Commission is "not likely to pursue fraud charges against a short seller or its affiliates...absent egregious conduct and persuasive evidence." SEC Enforcement Actions and Issuer Litigation in the Context of a "Short Attack," The Business Lawyer (2013).

Certainly, SEC enforcement staff must be aware of the plethora of shady characters making unsubstantiated attacks targeting public company stocks – many on the same sites used by the promotional firms called out in the recent SEC actions. So what's behind the hesitancy to pursue cases against short sellers? One reason may be that SEC staffers have come to believe the short sellers' refrain that they provide a valuable service by exposing fraud at public companies. While this claim may be true in a handful of cases, it should not insulate the numerous bad actors pedaling misinformation for profit from SEC scrutiny.

Another important reason for the SEC's inaction is that there is no analogue statute to Section 17(b) requiring an author of a negative article to disclose if he is being paid by short interests, or would benefit from a fall in the stock price. This statutory gap requires the SEC to build a case under the general anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws – a much more daunting task. Yet, these burdens did not stop the SEC in several of the matters filed on April 10 from alleging the full panoply of fraudulent acts under the general anti-fraud provisions of the securities laws, alleging that the promotion firms and the issuers engaged in a fraudulent "scheme to deceive investors."

These same theories could be applied to the unscrupulous false rumor-mongering and short-driven schemes on stock sites and through social media. The SEC has the tools to battle the purposeful misinformation being spread by short sellers about U.S. listed companies. Let's hope that the new incoming Commission chairman encourages his enforcers to use them.

Originally published in Bloomberg's Big Law Business on April 21, 2017.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Events from this Firm
25 Sep 2018, Conference, California, United States

We're excited to introduce Women's IP Strategy, a 2-day conference that tackles both the IP, legal as well as broader career development obstacles, risks and rewards for women lawyers working in male-dominant industries.

2 Oct 2018, Webinar, California, United States

This CLE webinar will offer suggestions to litigators to help them comply with the new GDPR during e-discovery.

10 Oct 2018, Webinar, California, United States

For the past years, 3D printing has significantly revolutionized the business industry as it provides innovations and improvement to pre-existing processes.

 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions