If misinformation is now a world-wide problem, what can global news organisations do to help?
Jamie Angus, Director of the BBC World Service Group, used a Polis@LSE Media and Communication in Action Talk at LSE to explain the role of the BBC World Service not only as a globally recognised force in independent and trustworthy journalism but also as an important pillar in combatting the global circulation of misinformation. Often perceived as a US problem associated with American President Donald Trump, Angus considered ‘fake news’ or misinformation and disinformation from a global perspective.
The World Service broadcasts news in 42 languages to an audience of over 370 million. The BBC World Service is in a unique position to monitor the global growth of misinformation and the consequences it can have on the lives of people. Angus emphasised the anti-vaccine movement, which puts the lives of children at risk by framing vaccines as ineffective or even harmful. BBC World Service have developed extensive projects in response that are intended to dispel this misconception and other misinformation.
Fact-checking is not straightforward, often costing time and resources to examine content from around the world. As an example, Angus detailed how in one case, the BBC brand had been falsely exploited to add the illusion of authenticity around a manipulated video, which was then brought to their attention by a member of the public. This raised another concern on how to handle the fake video: would calling it out draw further attention to it? Despite the scale and scope of the BBC World Service, it cannot tackle the problem on its own; international recognition and cooperation is required to face the phenomenon of fake news in an increasingly media saturated environment.
The Extent of Misinformation
The term ‘fake news’, which Angus is hesitant to use due to its weaponization, is generally referred to in an American context and fails to address its repercussions elsewhere. Although many have heard of Russia’s interference in the U.S elections, the role of misinformation in India’s election is not common knowledge. This America-centric attitude is problematic as it doesn’t acknowledge the extent of the issue, particularly in countries where stories aren’t verified before featuring in the news or where investigative journalism is an unsustainable and unaffordable business model.
Misinformation has been weaponised in numerous ways: from hacking the brands of trusted news sources or deep fake videos that have been manipulated for furthering political and often geopolitical agendas. As technologies become more sophisticated, so does their capacity to circulate false information under the pretence of legitimacy. Even now, entertainment apps are available that allow realistic face-swapping in seconds.
Angus pointed out that there are also advantages in the continuous advancement in technology. These developments could be used to detect tampered content and filter misinformation in the battle against manipulation. He warns that stricter regulations may be required to confront this phenomenon and that media literacy is a growing necessity in this new video technology arms race.
This article is by Media and Communications MSc student Venuri Perera
Full details of this autumn’s Polis LSE Media and Communications Action Talks here: they are free open to the public