An 18-month investigation by the House of Commons Digital, Culture Media and Sports (DCMS) Committee into disinformation and ‘fake news’ finished on 14 February – ironic really as the subsequent report highlights issues which threaten to cause a falling out of love with media, with digital as the number one villain.
Fake news, a phrase made infamous by President Trump, is a real issue which is having serious consequences across the world, from influencing political campaigns and disrupting democracy to inciting bigotry and hate.
But fake news isn’t a new phenomenon. Propaganda has existed throughout history with one of the most obvious examples seen during the Second World War when Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and National Enlightenment, Dr Joseph Goebbels, was tasked with presenting a favourable image of the Nazi regime. This generation could never have imagined the existence of Facebook, YouTube or Instagram but nevertheless, the damaging messaging was spread just as effectively.
But before we rush in and vilify the media, we should pause and consider the flip of the coin. Without newspapers read and television footage viewed, the world may never have believed the true horror of the concentration camps. Media – including social media – can also play a highly positive role and professional investigative journalism continues to serve us well, uncovering many human rights issues, political scandals and criminal activities that would otherwise remain under the radar.
The key word here is ‘responsibility’ and the DCMS Committee report clearly underlines the need for tech companies to step up and stop pretending fake news is simply ‘freedom of speech’.
Chair of the DCMS Committee Damian Collins MP, concluded: “The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe their users to act against harmful content and to respect their data privacy rights.”
This month Facebook was criticised once more for its less than speedy efforts in taking down the 17 minute live streaming of the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. Surely no amount of views or likes is worth what could be perceived as promoting terrorism.
The NHS has also suggested fake news spread on Instagram and YouTube by anti-vaccine campaigners has fuelled a tripling in measles cases, putting lives at risk.
Thankfully we still have some well respected, highly professional news sources to rely on but for others, it’s a ‘publish first, apologise later’ attitude. The truth no longer seems of prime importance, just that the story claims pole position in news feeds.
We need to get back some old fashioned standards, as highlighted by the DCMS Committee Chair who said: “The age of self-regulation must come to an end. The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct, written into law by Parliament and overseen by an independent regulator.”
But it’s not just the tech companies who must lead this charge, all sectors of the communications industry have a role to play, including public relations. We may, or may not, be dealing with life-changing issues but we have a duty to our clients and our profession to create thoroughly researched, well written, watertight content and campaigns that will hold up to any amount of scrutiny.
Building lasting reputations is at the heart of what we do. We also need to use our skills and professionalism to help rebuild trust in the media.
We are Genesis, an integrated PR and digital marketing agency celebrating our 15th anniversary this year. We understand the importance of media relations and how important it is to have a dedicated team of PR professionals writing for your business. Get in touch to chat today.