Promote the mainstream media to counter misinformation, urges SoE

Posted on: October 2, 2020 by Claire Meadows

Elected officials should do more to promote the work of the mainstream media as a possible means of countering misinformation and disinformation on digital platforms, the Society of Editors (SoE) has suggested.

Writing in response to the Labour Party’s ‘Our Digital Future’ consultation, the Society said that while more needed to be done to tackle the issue of misinformation and disinformation available on social media platforms, cross-party support could also be given to elected officials doing more to promote and highlight the edited and reliable content produced by established news platforms.

The Society said: “While the Society supports greater efforts by social media companies to take responsibility for the scourge of misinformation and disinformation available on their platforms, one additional method of helping to counter this problem is for elected officials from the Labour Party – and all parties – to help promote and signpost the public to the trusted and reliable sources of news and information produced by the mainstream media.

“By elected officials choosing to engage with the media and communicating with them more on matters of public interest, journalists can continue to provide the public with the accurate, responsible and trusted journalism that they demand in a timely manner.”

The Society was responding to calls by the party to help shape the principles that should govern Labour’s approach to digital technologies – in particular the rise of disinformation and online harms.

Responding to the consultation, the SoE said that the absence of effective social media regulation on online platforms had fuelled a rise in online harms and misinformation.

It said: “The absence of any meaningful regulation of social media platforms has not only fuelled the spread of online harms, but also the reach of disinformation and misinformation. The Society has been vocal in its underscoring of the threat this poses to UK news publishers and the restrictions this phenomenon places on the ability of legitimate news platforms to report, and be heard, by the public.”

While the Society supported efforts to tackle the real threat and damage caused by illegal content online, it called on the Labour party to support a clear and absolute exemption for mainstream media content from any current or future laws aimed at tackling online harms or misinformation.    

It added: “It is essential that there is a specific exemption set out in the new law for recognised media organisations. The strongly held principles of our free media, including the protection of sources and the right to legitimate comment and debate, are likely to be undermined by the proposed law if an exemption for recognised media outlets is not included.

“Without an exemption, the digital platforms – in seeking to adhere to any new regulations – may opt to use cheap algorithms to seek out and remove content they fear may fall foul of new restrictions. There is a very real risk that such algorithms may prove far too blunt an instrument resulting in legitimate media content being caught in the crossfire. The proposals must not act as barrier or threat to legitimate editorial content and debate.”

Read the Society’s response in full here