Fake news is sadly big news at the moment, as you will know.
Following recent elections and referenda in the US, UK, and Italy, the dissemination of fake news articles via social media platforms has been put under the spotlight.
Technology has had a significant impact on the business of reporting the news, the way in which citizens now consume news, and the impact that news received via platforms such as Facebook, is having on democracy.
Whilst we can all agree that the internet has dramatically increased consumption of news and content, the content isn’t always produced by reliable, authoritative sources.
The consumption of news via Facebook is strong and growing. Data produced by the Pew Centre in the US, found that almost half of US adults said that they receive their news via Facebook. This year’s Reuters news report 2016 found that for every group under 45, online news is now more important than television news. For 18–24s social media (28%) comes out ahead of TV (24%) for the first time with print lagging behind at just 6%. Across the sample, 44% of respondents say that they use Facebook for news.
Understandably, the abundance of fake news online is leading to consumer suspicion of consuming news via social media. A recent US report by NORC found that “people who rely on social media heavily for news are highly sceptical of the news they encounter in those networks… 12 percent of those who get news on Facebook, for instance, say they trust it a lot or a great deal. At the high end, just 23 percent say they have a lot or a great deal of trust in news they encounter on LinkedIn. To overcome that general scepticism, social media news consumers say they look for cues to help them know what to trust there. The most important of those, cited by 66 percent of Facebook news consumers, is trust in the original news organization that produced the content.
As many of you will already know, the EU’s Digital Commissioner Ansip has warned Facebook, along with other social media companies, that they need to take a stronger position against fake news – otherwise they may face legal action from Brussels.
What this all means is that publishers (and their reliable brands) are more important than ever. Many publishers have fact checking departments (some new, many long-established: for example, the Guardian’s Reality Check since 2011, Liberation’s Desintox since 2008, El Pais has given new fact-checking responsibilities to its production team…) but in fact EVERY journalist is a fact checker.
This has always been the case and it does not change with the fake news problem. Professional journalism has always been the only reliable source of information. Publishing houses are in fact the home of professional journalism. Publishers are legally accountable and subject to strict industry codes of conduct for the journalism they produce and distribute, whatever the platform.
Consumption of news on social media is a modern reality but one which is distancing the consumer from the reliable brand. Newspaper and magazine websites lose page views because their articles can be read elsewhere in pirated, parasitical or aggregated form, in full or as extracts of the original, without a licence or payment to the publisher. This is a problem because fewer and fewer readers link back to the publishers’ sites. This adversely affects publishers’ ability to sell advertising in support of that content, or to collect data about how their users interact with their content. On the other hand, the platform through its news offering (as news is the often the most popular content on these platforms) becomes the main portal for consumers to access news, capturing most of the advertising and large amounts of user data which is not shared fairly with the publishers of the original content.
Consumers are not to blame. Publishers’ raison d’etre is for their content to be consumed. However, the more publishers struggle to earn revenue to finance the high-cost, high-risk business of professional journalism, content production and distribution, the more consumers are likely to be exposed to unreliable sources of news and information. That’s a fact.
In a recent interview with German news agency, DPA, Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Axel Springer in Germany said: “Only persistent research by the media will combat Fake News. It has always existed. There have always been rumours, spread at the vegetable market or after three beers in the pub. In the age of social media, however, this has a different impact because everyone can see it. Fake News is the exact opposite of professional journalism.”
If you are committed to a democratic Europe with a strong media landscape, you will feel inspired to get involved with our initiative, www.empowerdemocracy.eu.