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fake news


been large rises in subscriptions to papers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal in what has been called “a flight to quality”. Under increasing political pressure, tech companies such


as Facebook and Google have shown signs of being prepared to accept greater responsibility for spreading information that is false, extremist, violent or socially unacceptable in other ways.


London School of Economics academic Damian Tambini argues that the days when the social media giants can remain free to spread fake news and opinion without accepting the responsibilities of publishers may soon be over. Social media companies have been developing artificial


intelligence systems and hiring thousands of human moderators to remove unacceptable material. Washington Post columnist and Pulitzer Prize winning


historian Anne Applebaum was so concerned about the spread of “disinformation” that she co-funded a new institute, Arena, to tackle the problem. While recognising the seriousness of the challenge, she is certain something can be done about disinformation. “I am slightly more optimistic. The first part of dealing with any problem is to be aware that it exists, and the fact that the general public, journalists and the tech companies know that it is real is a step towards solving the problem,” Applebaum argues. The recent 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which claims to be the world’s largest study of trust, found that fewer than a quarter of people in the UK trust the American tech giants. At the same time, trust in traditional media such as newspapers and television rose by 13 percentage points in a year to 61 per cent, a six-year high. Hugo Dixon, founder of Breakingviews, now owned by Thomson Reuters, also believes there has been a modest swing back of the pendulum on susceptibility to fake news. “People are a bit more aware they are being told things that


are untrue; not everyone is, but I think there has been a bit of swingback,” says Dixon, who believes the election of Trump may have been the high water mark for the kind of populism that boosted fake news. The former Financial Times journalist, who also set up


InFacts to monitor press performance during the referendum campaign, now believes that “the more insidious stuff is coming out of the mouths of politicians”. The role of the professional journalist, Dixon argues, is vital


in “stamping on fake news” wherever it is found, and interrogating politicians and exposing any looseness with the facts.


In turn journalists must get their facts rights and make proper corrections when they get it wrong. Phil Harding, former editor of Radio 4’s Today programme and controller of BBC editorial standards, fears that fake news can never be stamped out entirely because it is so multi- dimensional and vast but it can be contained as greater value is placed on professionally checked information. Along with Sambrook, who is a believer in the importance of media literacy, Harding argues that in the longer term the “solution” is a generational one. “Digital literacy has got to form part of the school


curriculum, teaching the next generation to be very sceptical


“ ”


In 2017, the world, not least the media world, woke up and declared war on the toxic, the lazy, the cynical and the downright fake


and wanting to check out the media they use. At the moment they seem to be too trusting and unquestioning and not sceptical enough,” says Harding. Many see fake news as not so much a threat as an opportunity for the mainstream media. Vanessa Clifford, chief executive of Newsworks, a


newspaper marketing organisation, and one who notes that what news brands do magnificently – “disseminating quality news in a trusted environment” – was at the heart of the debate about the future of the digital media marketplace. “In 2017 the world, not least the media world, woke up and declared war on the toxic, the lazy, the cynical and the downright fake. We are going to see the battle continuing, and it’s one that’s definitely worth winning,” insists Clifford. Murray of the Society of Editors waxes positively poetic


about the future of journalism in the battle against fake news. “Some of it [journalism] is tarnished here and there but most of it will absolutely stand up to scrutiny. A free press and media is a precious jewel like a diamond in the rough – even when it is polished there will still be flaws but the light that shines is brilliant,” says Murray.


theJournalist | 17


BEN JENNINGS


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