Media Under Siege

Credit: Adrian Pingstone

British MPs, under The Culture, Media and Sport Committee (http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/culture-media-and-sport-committee/), have finally recognized the necessity to examine the threat of fake news – most commonly spread through Facebook and other social media sites. Whilst many would say that this inquiry is overdue by almost a decade and a half, or more – having been necessary since large social media sites like Facebook became mainstream, it is certain that late is preferable to never.

This inquiry will be examining the source of fake news, focusing on how this fake news is spread and how it impacts democracy. The committee deemed this necessary after concerns over the public being swayed by propaganda and untruths have been raised, amongst claims that voters in the Us election were influenced by fake news. It is also worth noting that there were many instances of fake news and untruths being spread to the public during both the American election and the Brexit campaign. The committee chairman, Damian Collins, said of the rise of propaganda and fake news “(it is) a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general”.

Damian Collins went on to state that major tech companies, whilst having already accepted their social responsibility to help combat online piracy, must help address the spreading of fake news on social media. He also stated that it is important consumers be given tools to help assess the origins and candour of news stories they consume. As such Collins has stated, “The committee will be investigating these issues as well as looking into the sources of fake news, what motivates people to spread it and how it has been used around elections and important political debates”.

This new inquiry being launched by Parliament has come under criticism from ‘alternative’ news sites, such as Yournewswire.com, who have said that it will affect their ability to produce articles. In fact Sean Adl-Tabataba, the editor-in-chief of YourNewsWire, has declared it a “war on alternative and independent media outlets”. However, YourNewsWire has an entire section of their website dedicated to fake news, what they dub as conspiracies (http://yournewswire.com/category/conspiracies/), many of these articles focus around the illuminati, aliens and other such obvious satire.

Yet, one such article was not taken as satire; YourNewsWire published a piece in May 2016 about the queen being willing to abdicate the throne should the public vote for Brexit (http://yournewswire.com/queen-elizabeth-reveals-she-is-ready-to-flee-britain/), this article was shared around 23,000 on Facebook during the lead up to the Brexit vote and there is no way to tell how many people believed it. Sean defended these articles by stating they capture the audiences imaginations and are clearly labeled as false news. However, why would a news site whose mantra, which is clearly stated on their site underneath the name, remains “News. Truth. Unfiltered.” even bother in dabbling with fake news and conspiracy theories?

MPs wish to investigate whether this idea of fictitious news, often being purported on sites that claim to provide truthful, unfiltered facts, will affect people’s view of the world and their trust in traditional journalism. They also wish to examine whether different groups respond to fictitious news in different ways, to better understand how to combat the spread of ignorance and misinformation. Labour launched their own investigation earlier this month, led by Michael Dugher, the former shadow culture secretary, who warned that Labour needed to be wary of misinformation being spread by both the left and the right.

The cross-party Commons committee is expected to start hearings in due course and is open to written submissions from interested parties who wish to be involved in the investigation in to fake news.

 

Angus Stewart-Robinson

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