Action needed to address proliferation of misinformation “at government level” according to leading trade union representative
THE organiser for the Scottish National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has called for upcoming fake news roundtable talks to address government accountablity for its role in the spread of so-called fake news and misinformaton.
Speaking to CommonSpace, Paul Holleran expressed a need for the discussions to include misrepresentation of truths by the government.
Minister for digital and cultural policy, Matt Hancock, announced last week that a roundtable discussion would soon be organised to assess fake news in the media.
There has been growing concern that fake news stories circulating on social media have a damaging effect on important social or political issues. Hancock wants media representatives to join his roundtable and weigh in on fears about accuracy in journalism amid concerns that suggest fake news can influence public opinion.
“Anything that highlights what the issues are with fake news is going to be beneficial.” Paul Holleran
Giving his view on the roundtable, Holleran suggested that misinformation from the government and other political parties should be discussed as “anything that maximises more robust questioning by journalists is a good thing”.
He said “Anything that highlights the issues with fake news is going to be beneficial. There needs to be discussion on what fake news actually means. A lot of the time fake news is self-explanatory but there is a wide spectrum and crossover between misinformation.
“Direct political distortion of reality and misinformation at government level needs to be addressed. Look at Trident, [It was recently revealed that a Trident nuclear missile had misfired and veered off course in June 2016] – there was an omission of facts and figures there.
While Holleran supports the decison to have a fake news discussion, he noted the lack of a Scottish voice present at the roundtable.
“There should always be a Scottish voice. Fake news and misinformation is something society in Scotland should be aware of. For example, the stuff with Nick Robinson [when accusations of BBC bias during the independence referendum generated calls by pro-independence campaigners for BBC political editor Nick Robinson to be sacked].”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said that it has no plans for a similar roundtable at the moment but could “look into it, should the discussions throw up anything specifically Scottish”.
“DCMS are making real positive steps to get people round the table to see what role politicians and legislation plays in the era of digital news.” Jamie Greene
The talks have yet to take place but this is recognised as the first step taken at a UK Government level to assess fake news in the media. It comes after search engine and social media providers such as Google and Facebook announced they were taking steps to combat the supply of fake news to their users by installing web fact-checking capabilities on their sites.
The Scottish Conservative Party spokesman for technology and the digital economy, Jamie Greene MSP, praised Hancock’s decision, saying: “Matt Hancock MP and his team at DCMS are making real positive steps to get people round the table to see what role politicians and legislation plays in the era of digital news.
“It’s clear that more needs to be done to identify unreliable news sources from feeding social media with propaganda and untruths. The US presidential election showed how much fake news can distort people’s views in relation to individuals and on certain issues. It’s often hard to tell fact from fiction when offered a range of statistics and interpretations of news. “It’s unfair on the electorate, who should be able to reach conclusions based on truthful information.”
“The reality is, in the social media age, a lie is around the world before the truth gets it’s boots on.” Scottish Labour
In order to be less susceptible to fake news stories Greene advised to “always to make sure you cross reference statistics, check them against known reliable sources and digest a wide variety of news from different angles before deciding on the accuracy of the argument presented before you.”
A Scottish Labour spokesperson agreed that “fake news is a serious problem, and so is misinformation. The reality is, in the social media age, a lie is around the world before the truth gets it’s boots on.”
Hancock’s announcement is timely in light of scientists claiming last month that people can be ‘inoculated’ against misinformation in a new social psychology study aiming to negate the influence of ‘fake news’ on public opinion towards climate change.
The collaborative study by psychologists from the universities of Cambridge, Yale and George Mason adopted the method used in medicine to prevent viruses (administering a weakened dose to build an immunity prior to exposure) and successfully applied that logic to ‘vaccinate’ the public against misinformation and ‘fake news’ regarding climate change.
Hancock’s announcement is timely in light of scientists claiming last month that people can be ‘inoculated’ against misinformation.
The study, published in the Global Changes Journal in January 2017, is one of the first ‘inoculation theories’ to draw on a real life example of conflicting information on a major issue and tested over 2,000 nationally representative US citizens.
Lead author on the study, Cambridge University social psychologist Dr Linden, stated in his research: “The idea is to provide a cognitive repertoire that helps build up resistance to misinformation, so the next time people come across it, they are less susceptible.”
Dr. Linden went on to say: “A lot of people’s attitudes toward climate change aren’t very firm. They are aware there is a debate going on, but aren’t necessarily sure what to believe. Conflicting messages can leave them feeling back at square one.”
The findings indicated that when test subjects who had not been ‘vaccinated’ were presented with the inaccurate information it negated the positive influence the previous accurate statement had provided. However when given a ‘warning dose’ of misinformation prior to full exposure, a decrease in susceptibility to the ‘fake news’ and an increase in positive information retention was reported.
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