Channel 4 PR boss says fake news is 'cancer to democracy's blood supply' and 'most insidious' problem on internet
A Channel 4 PR boss has told Peers that fake news is â€œthe most insidiousâ€� problem on the internet â€“ more so than child abuse or cyber bullying.
Dan Brooke, chief marketing and communications officer at the broadcaster, told the House of Lords Communications Committee yesterday that fake news is â€œlike a cancer to democracyâ€™s blood supplyâ€�.
Brooke appeared alongside Clare Sumner, director of policy at the BBC, and Magnus Brooke, director of policy and regulatory affairs at ITV, as they gave their broadcasters’ views on whether the internet should be regulated.
Channel 4â€™s Brooke (pictured with Sumner) spoke about the â€œdark sidesâ€� and â€œunintended consequencesâ€� of the internet, listing trolling, fraud, cyber bullying, hate speech, child and abuse and fake news.
â€œAll of those things that I mentioned are of course grave concerns,” he told the committee, “but actually our belief is that the most insidious one is,Â in fact, fake news.
â€œWhy? Because fake news just undermines the absolute fundamental of how we choose to organise ourselves as a society through the system of democracy.
â€œAnd information, we believe, is the lifeblood of democracy and Iâ€™m afraid that fake news is like a leukaemia. It is like a cancer to democracyâ€™s blood supply.
â€œSo it [regulation] is absolutely essential, and we applaud the fact that Parliament is looking into it and how to regulate it and how to regulate the internet better.â€�
Channel 4â€™s Brooke said a regulatory body dedicated to content regulation of the internet is â€œimperativeâ€�, whether it is set up entirely independently or as a specific unit within an existing regulator such as Ofcom.
ITVâ€™s Brooke said the important thing would be to ensure it is well-resourced and funded as appropriate by a levy of the people it regulates, similar to Ofcom.
Self-regulation on the internet had proved “completely wanting”,Â Channel 4â€™s Brooke added.
“The only way of dealing with that is for an independent third party to impose a code of practice and to ensure that there is liability if those codes of practice arenâ€™t met,” he said.
“Itâ€™s then up to the platforms to figure out what is the best way of policing their own platforms…
“All I would observe is, of the many things weâ€™re told about ‘weâ€™re trying this’ or ‘weâ€™re trying that’, thereâ€™s still an enormous amount of opacity both about what those things are and what impact they have.”
Brooke added that asking websites, particularly social media platforms, to pre-approve all content that gets uploaded would be “totally unrealistic”.
â€œWhat is realistic though is to ask them to scan their platforms for content that is either illegal or harmful and to identify it and to take it down and to take it down properly and to ensure it is kept off the platform.
“That is not unreasonable.â€�
It revealed graphic content remaining on the site long after being flagged by users, thousands of posts going unmoderated beyond Facebook’s target of a 24-hour turnaround, and policies of allowing hate speech and racist content to remain online.
One moderator told the undercover reporter: â€œIf you start censoring too much then people lose interest in the platformâ€¦ Itâ€™s all about making money at the end of the day.â€�
Channel 4’s Brooke said the programme â€œclearly shows they [Facebook] are not capable of doing that [take-down moderation] off their own back on the basis of the evidence of that programmeâ€�.
â€œMaybe thatâ€™s a one-off but it didnâ€™t seem like a one-off,â€� he said.
â€œSo to us itâ€™s absolutely clear a code of practice needs to be introduced and there needs to be clear liability for what happens if that code of practice is not met.
“They canâ€™t introduce it themselves so it needs to be introduced by somebody else.â€�
Of Facebookâ€™s moderation process, Brooke later added: â€œI donâ€™t think theyâ€™re doing anything more than wandering around after Frankensteinâ€™s monster with a tin full of sticking plasters.
â€œTheyâ€™re dealing with whatever they need to deal with in order to stop PR problems, rather than fundamentally dealing with the problems.â€�
Sumner said it would also be important for consumers to be given more transparent mechanisms to complain about content and potentially then to appeal the decision.
The broadcasters agreed that websites such as Facebook and Google should be classed as publishers, rather than platforms, which are responsible for the content they host.
ITVâ€™s Brooke pointed out that the sites â€œhave been adeptâ€� at eliminating content such as pornography and child abuse images, which he said â€œindicates that actually they can, if they put their minds to it, be pretty effectiveâ€�.
â€œBut I think you do need to be realistic about continuing to have a platform of open access on which thereâ€™s no delay in uploading content to, and finding that balance is the trick,â€� he added.
In Germany tough new legislation came into effect in January requiring social media companies to remove “obviously illegal” extreme content and hate speech from their platforms within 24 hours or face fines up toÂ â‚¬50m.
As a result, Germany now hosts one-sixth of Facebookâ€™s global moderation team.
ITV’s Brooke said this showed how having an effective regulator “does ultimately concentrate the minds of commercial organisations”.
Asked whether the legislation threatens freedom of speech, Channel 4’s Brooke said: “No system is perfect.
“I would look at the British system for the regulation of television news where we have a situation where all our organisations rest, and particularly Channel 4, on being able to fulfil the concept of liberal free speech that we have in this society, and yet we also have the strictest form of regulation around television news and the by-product of all of that is we are still peopleâ€™s number one source of news, television, and also weâ€™re the most trusted.
“So that tells me – and there are lots of imperfections to the system ofÂ course, Iâ€™m sure it can be improved – but it shows to me that the concepts of free speech and regulation can co-exist and can co-exist successfully, just not perfectly.”
Picture: Parliament TV
Source: Digital Journalism