BY TIM SANDLE
The digital transformation of news has opened up a world of new information and has allowed many areas previously ignored to gain a wider profile. However, it has also increased the rate of ‘fake news’. The European Union has taken new measures.
Digital news has mad news and reporting more accessible than ever before. Stories that might have fallen under the radar are now more likely to receive attention, and issues that were once ignored by mainstream media outlets now have a platform.
The downside, however, is with differentiating between genuine news – that is news based on actual events, supported by facts – and news that is fabricated or where certain elements of a story have been exaggerated or embellished without supporting information. This rise is not due to the digital technology that permits wider news coverage, but in a world where some political figures can make statements that cannot be supported by facts and these are freely reported as ‘news’, then the technology provides a platform for ‘fake news’ to be spread.
Impact on European citizens
The European Commission, concerned by the impact of misinformation on European Union states, has undertaken a review and proposed a series of measures. The general review into the digital transformation of news media has been covered in the Digital Journal article “Changing role of news in the digital age.”
Based on the outcome of the research from the European Commission Joint Research Centre, the European Commission has initiated measures to address the spread and reach of online disinformation throughout Europe. The focus, according to the Commission, is to protect of European values (although these are not defined) and to maintain democratic principles.
New code of practice
The measures will take the form of a European Union-wide Code of Practice on Disinformation. In addition, support will be provided to the forming of an independent network of fact-checkers. In addition, support will be given to journalism courses at recognized institutions to help stimulate quality journalism.
The measures are necessary, the report states, because although news is much more widely available and far more accessible, concerns with fake news have led to a reduction in user trust in news media. In contrast, despite large reductions in readership levels, trust in traditional print and broadcasted news remains much higher.
There are also concerns with how widely fake news spreads on social media (having a powerful reach) and due to existence of echo chambers, where biased and distorted opinions run string. There are also concerns on how the spread of disinformation affects political choices.
One particular area of concern, highlighted by the European External Action Service East StratComm Task Force, is with pro-Kremlin disinformation. Here European Union findings suggest problematic ongoing narratives, such as a story that NATO was behind the protests in Ukraine or that the West is trying to attack Russia.
This was based on an analysis of 55 million tweets that went through the computers of the research institute. This analysis found that news under the disinformation umbrella tended to be overly emotional, whereas balanced news, when aggregated, tended to be of a more balanced nature.