An influential committee of the UK House of Commons on Monday launched an inquiry into the growing phenomenon of “fake news”, calling it a threat to democracy that undermined confidence in the media.
The Culture, Media and Sport Committee said that over the past few years, there were rising concerns about the trend to distrust traditional sources of news, such as newspapers and broadcasters, and instead to turn to the internet and social media despite the fact that the source of stories was often unclear and it was not known whether these reports were accurate.
“The fear that this might lead the public being fed propaganda and untruths has been increased by the suggestions that electors in the 2016 US presidential election were subjected to possibly unprecedented amounts of 'fake news', and concerns that this may have had a significant impact on democratic processes,” the panel said.
Launching the inquiry, Damian Collins, chair of the committee, said: “Just as major tech companies have accepted they have a social responsibility to combat piracy online and the illegal sharing of content, they also need to help address the spreading of fake news on social media platforms.”
Collins said consumers should be given new tools to help them assess the origin and likely veracity of news reports they read online.
“The committee will be investigating these issues, as well as looking into the sources of fake news, what motivates people to spread it, and how it has been used around elections and other important political debates," he added.
The committee said it was looking at ways to respond to the phenomenon, focusing in particular on the following questions:
* What is “fake news”? Where does biased but legitimate commentary shade into propaganda and lies?
* What impact fake news has on public understanding of the world, and on the public response to traditional journalism? If all views are equally valid, does objectivity and balance lose all value?
* Is there any difference in the way people of different ages, social backgrounds and genders use and respond to fake news?
* Have changes in the selling and placing of advertising encouraged the growth of fake news, for example by making it profitable to use fake news to attract more hits to websites, and thus more income from advertisers?
* What responsibilities do search engines and social media platforms have, particularly those which are accessible to young people? Is it viable to use computer-generated algorithms to root out “fake news” from genuine reporting?
* How can people be educated to assess and use different sources of news?
* Are there differences between the UK and other countries in the degree to which people accept “fake news”, given Britain’s tradition of public service broadcasting and newspaper readership?
* How have other governments responded to fake news?