#FakeNews: innocuous or intolerable?

Date Posted: May 31, 2019 Last Modified: May 31, 2019
#FakeNews: innocuous or intolerable? Photo: Mudassar Iqbal, Pixabay

In February 2017, Wilton Park in association with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Article 19, and the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, convened experts from the technology industry, journalists, academia and the like to address questions regarding fake news. The aim of the convention was to generate critical conversations and understanding of the term 'fake news' on various levels. The participants aimed to generate a common vocabulary for thinking through 'fake news' and generated a research and reporting agenda for future participants and other to use. 

  • The key points of discussion included the call for media organisations to engage in more fact-checking and if needed recruit the help of non-governmental organisations dedicated to new verification. Additionally, news sites could have a 'fake news beat' where fake news is covered in-depth by specialists. The media could also build more credibility around it by being more transparent about its organisational structure, advertising revenues and story sources.
  • The discussion also placed centrality to the role of civil society in its ability to set new norms and place pressure on news media to enforce existing norms such as the norm of shaming bad actors. Civil society organisations can also provide support to fact-checking organisations, and act as watchdogs to government responses to 'fake news'.
  • Since there is a lack of a uniform definition of the term 'fake news', the most effective solution to the problem lies outside legal prohibitions. The various speech protection laws make attempts to legislate 'fake news' more likely to constrain legitimate speech than to solve the issue.
  • In order to tackle the problem of technology platforms driving the spread of fake news, the economic incentives of 'fake news' needs to be eliminated. These online platforms might also consider providing tools to journalists to help them in assessing verifiability.