Written by Tom Jennings
In the age of Trump, we’ve all asked ourselves, ‘How do people not realise they’ve been lied to?’.
Well, people do realise – 33% of Brits admit to having been fooled by fake news, making it a huge threat to the foundations of our democracy.
It is not just false news articles uploaded by individuals that need to be combated.
Russian bot-controlled accounts have made 45,000 anti-Western posts since the chemical attack in Syria.
This contributes directly to the harmful ‘echo chamber’ effect, where misinformation is reinforced through a repetitive bombardment.
The aim of fake news however, is not just simply to make someone believe a falsehood though.
The Russian propaganda machine in particular aims to confuse by providing so many different conflicting accounts that one simply gives up attempting to find the truth, making all politicians and officials seem like liars.
This is a blatant and cynical attempt to make democracy unworkable – without clear facts, how can one decide?
The London School of Economics Commission on Truth, Trust and Technology has recommended that a new body, funded by Facebook and Twitter, is needed to monitor these tech giants, who have so far made only half-hearted attempts at self-regulation.
Named the Independent Platform Agency, the group would produce an annual report on ‘the state of disinformation’.
This is a vital first step in rebuilding trust and providing transparency through a truly independent watchdog. Relying on the traditional channels to deal with this new threat is at best wishful thinking and at worst, actively damaging.
It is somewhat inevitable that Facebook will be resistant; ICO, the UK data watchdog, recently fined Facebook £500,000 for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Facebook has appealed claiming no personal data had been improperly shared, although it did not deny the serious security problems.
The old ‘we left the store unlocked but at least nothing was stolen’ defence.
So uncooperative are Zuckerberg and co that MP’s took the highly unusual step of sending the House of Commons Sergeant at Arms, who is responsible for security and keeping order, to the hotel bedroom of an American tech exec on a visit to London to seize documents relating to Facebooks privacy controls.
When this country relies on somebody who wears a sword to work to combat tech giants, we know we need a serious rethink.
It is clear that in a new age of weaponised information and state sponsored fake news campaigns, a new approach is needed.
Sadly, for the moment, it is the platforms through which these fabrications are spread, which are the most resistant to it being fought.
Clicks, it would seem, trumps democracy.