The Culture Media and Sport Committee this week announced the launch of an inquiry into fake news. Following concerns that misleading reports played a role in determining the recent election result in the US, the inquiry promises to explore the sources of fake news, the way it is circulated and the impact it has on the relationship between public, the media and democracy.
Chair of the Committee Damian Collins MP has said:
“The growing phenomenon of fake news is a threat to democracy and undermines confidence in the media in general.
Just as major tech companies have accepted they have a social responsibility to combat piracy online and the illegal sharing of content, they also need to help address the spreading of fake news on social media platforms.’’
The emphasis on the role of tech companies comes as search engines and social media platforms receive growing criticism for their failure to address the spread of fake news across their platforms. The ease at which misleading news stories are created, shared and spread on platforms such as Facebook has raised questions over the capability of algorithms and humans alike to successfully identify when news is fake.
In response to this, Facebook has rolled out plans to allow users to flag fake news, which third party fact checking organisations then help verify. Similarly the BBC has announced its Reality Check team will become a permanent addition to its online site, with a dedicated team to debunk deliberately misleading stories. Both moves show that the media is moving, however slowly, to counteract something which has been happening for a long time, despite coming to a head over the last year or so.
The inquiry will also seek to explore the impact of fake news on the public relationship with traditional journalism more broadly. As Trump wages a war on the media as the ‘opposition party’, and ‘experts’ fall out of favour as trusted sources of information, the public perception of objectivity in the press also comes into question. A challenge for the Committee will be to work out how traditional media can work to counteract untrustworthy sources, when many deem it to be untrustworthy itself.