The BBC is leading with “Fake News”.
Today Programme, defining ‘fake’, differentiates outright fakery from bias. ‘Fake’ news, for example, means saying someone has died, when clearly they’re still alive.
Oddly enough, the examples given happen to be from ‘far right’ sources. The BBC wants us to beware of Fake News. (Only the likes of the BBC are trustworthy.)
JH: There has always been a load of rubbish in the papers - and on the BBC for that matter - we do our best to get it right and we don’t always succeed, but there is a world of difference between journalists getting it wrong and people deliberately making stuff up; sometimes stupid stuff, sometimes vicious. It’s called fake news and it seems to be all over social media and the internet these days, and today MPs are beginning an inquiry into it.I’m joined here by two people who know about it, Jim Waterson of Buzzfeed, he’s their political editor of Buzzfeed UK, and Suzanne Franks head of the department for journalism at City University.Um, Jim, you’re inclined to think that actually we’ve always had loads of fake news and it’s called ‘tabloid news’.
JW. Yes. So fake news in the purest sense, of somebody completely making up a fake headline like ‘John Humphrys to be next Pope and everyone…..
JH. Oh you’ve heard…
JW.….and it’s a great story, we’d all click on it, we’d all share on it and someone would get a lot of ad revenue. That sort of story hasn’t really taken hold in the UK. What I’m seeing when we’ve done analyses of UK political topics on Buzzfeed is essentially what people are sharing and reading is traditional British tabloid journalism, relying on facts, exaggeration completely taken out of context.
JH. But it’s getting worse than that, surely.
JW No, but it’s getting worse because the incentives on Facebook and online are to ramp up the headlines even on traditional tabloids to keep pushing up the limits to get more traffic, and the end effect is that we’re seeing rubbish seeping into the news eco system, but it’s often coming in the UK from traditional outlets.
JH. And are you worried about that?
JH.I am worried by that. I meant the other side of it is the publishers that exist only on Facebook, for instance Britain First, the far-right group publishes a lot of stuff from Facebook, which is completely dubious, Islamophobic and made up.
JH.But if we know where they’re coming from and if they call, themselves Britain First, that gives us a clue, doesn’t it - we can discount them if we choose to?
JW.We can, but a lot of people don’t have that level of media literacy or aren’t viewing it in that way; it’s appearing in their Facebook feed, just one of many things that is on their feed and they just see it as an isolated piece of content. If you read The Sun you get where it’s coming from; if you read the Guardian as a paper you get where it’s coming from. If you’re jus seeing isolated stories appearing in a newspaper with no context and a headline you like the sound of, you don’t really think, where is this coming from.
JH.Suzanne, that’s a worry?
(Suzanne Franks) Yes it is indeed I do think that’s a worry because a lot of audiences are unable, as we’ve just heard, to distinguish between the provenance of different stories. They don’t understand that some are, you know, proper legitimate stories that have been checked, and the next thing that appears the news feed is a load of rubbish that’s been made up.
JH.So what would you do about it?
SF.Well, I think the select committee are looking at some kind of way of stamping different news sources, which is one thing we could look at, but i think the most important thing is to look at the big platforms, where a lot of people are getting their news from, the Googles and the Facebooks, and putting the onus on them, because they are effectively now editors. They are producing news, even though they don't like to admit to that.
JH.Mmm. So in that case, Jim, as far as Buzzfeed is concerned, you’re an internet site, obviously, what sort of restrictions should there be on you that have been applied - not restrictions, that’s the wrong word - what kind of er concerns should we have about websites, specifically as opposed to the newspapers.
JW.Well I think the distinction is less between websites and newspapers, and more between professional organisations and unknown organisations, so for instance Buzzfeed we view ourselves as a professional news organisation that just happens to publish only online and not in a newspaper.
JH.But again, if we’re illiterate in the sense that we don’t spend half our life worrying about news like people in our trade do, of course that’s our job, but most people don’t, how do they know that Buzzfeed is any different from one of another thousand websites.
JW.Purely through a reputation we’ve built up over the last few years for doing proper reporting, and people are responding to that, but the next challenge is: previously news used to be distributed by people who owned either broadcast channels so either the BBCs and ITVs of this world, or who owned a newspaper in the sense of owning a distribution network and a load of printing presses. Now anyone can distribute the news and the problem is that while we thought that that would result in you know, a greater plurality…
JH.It’s a democracy..JW…. It’s overwhelmingly positive in many respects but it’s meant that it’s levelled the playing field to the extent that a link produced by the BBC can have as much value online as something that a bloke in any pub has written on his - you know - just sat and written on his Facebook can has gone just as viral as proper news story.
JH.D’you agree with that Suzanne?
Suzanne Franks: Yes I mean during the, I mean the sort of high point was during the latter stages of the presidential election when you were getting these - you know- little nerds in their back bedroom in Macedonia, were, were setting up these sites and getting millions of hits full of fake news about the election.
JH.But there are a lot of people out there who will say, um, why should I be stopped from propagating my views, if the Sun or the BBC or whatever can do it. Not of course that the BBC has views, but um…
SF.,,,but it’s not views. What we’re talking about here is absolute wrong facts.
JH.Right, so you’re drawing a very clear distinction between somebody’s opinion and somebody saying, the Pope supports Donald Trump. That’s a Fact.
SF.Yes, I mean I think that’s the kind of new phenomenon we’re having to deal with now, that, as I said, particularly during the latter stages of the election, that all these rubbish - you know - the one about Obama banning the Oath of Allegiance, and all of that, or that the Queen is going to abdicate because of brevet. These are complete, absolute fabrications, just like in Brave New World, you know, two plus two equals five - I mean these are wrong facts, which you know…
JH.Alright. From both of you in ten seconds apiece, a single action that governments, politicians, should take to stop it happening, is there one “ Is there anything that can do.JW..The only person who can do anything on a massive scale is Mark Zuckerberg who to my mind is increasingly the most powerful man in UK media and he’s based in California.
JH.And runs FacebookJW.And runs Facebook
SF.Yes, it’s the platform. Platforms have got to take ownership of the fact that they are now the editors and producers of, of where vast numbers of people now get their news.
JH.Professor Suzanne Franks, Jim Watson, thank you very much.
That’s covered fake news. Now, what about bias?