FML Blog

The digital duopoly, how platforms are fighting against disinformation, and regulating fake news

Friday, April 14, 2017      Future Media Lab.       0

Karin Fleming

(Left) Karin Fleming, Communications Manager at EMMA/the Future Media Lab.


In this bi-weekly news round-up, Karin Fleming, with the help of Caterina Sosso, Future Media Lab. Communications Intern, shares the news that caught her eye over the last two weeks. The news round-up is a way for the Future Media Lab. team and members of the Future Media Lab. network to share articles about innovations and developments in the media sector, including references to relevant media policy debates. To get this round-up sent directly to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletter!


Digital ecosystem a threat to high-quality news and information. Emily Bell, Director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, examines how the digital news ecosystem has been impacted by platforms in a recent article in the Guardian. She writes, “by acting like technology companies, while in fact taking on the role of publishers, Google, Facebook and others have accidentally designed a system that elevates the cheapest and ‘most engaging’ content at the expense of more expensive but less ‘spreadable’ material.” Bell continues, saying that regardless of the business model of media companies, their “relationship with platform companies is critical to their health.”


This poses many problems, particularly since increasing shares of digital advertising spend are being redirected to the biggest platforms, leaving publishers scrambling to get an ever-shrinking slice of the pie. Simultaneously, publishers are shouldering the burden of creating much of the valued content that appears on platform feeds. This illustration shows major news publishers and all the platforms they feel they should be on. Considering that each platform involves a significant investment of time, energy and money in order to create “platform-friendly” content, the media terrain is prohibitively expensive for smaller organisations and the actual ROI for larger companies is unclear.


Press Gazette takes on the Digital Duopoly. Press Gazette, a British trade magazine, launched its Duopoly campaign this week, which “ aims to stop Facebook and Google [from] destroying any more of the UK journalism industry.” The campaign will investigate the impact Google and Facebook have on the journalism industry, providing forums for debate and discussion.


The ideas behind the campaign were echoed in the scathing critique of the “dysfunctional and socially destructive” information ecosystem that Google and Facebook created, written by Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp, last week in the Wall Street Journal. Thomson wrote that fake news is not a new phenomenon but the changes to the digital news ecosystem as a result of the digital duopoly results in a “flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because [both companies] make copious amounts of money from both.”


German law to fine tech giants for not removing flagged content. This month the German Government approved a draft law that will fine tech giants up to €50m if they refuse to remove flagged content within 24 hours for blatantly illegal content, and seven days for other law-breaking content. The law is not without criticism, particularly due to its broad nature, since it risks de facto censorship by big social media companies. While this draft law would only apply within German borders, other European countries are taking steps against fake news. The European Parliament also has fake news on its radar, and there have been many recent debates and discussions on the topic. The e-Commerce Directive sets out that platforms have a limited responsibility for what is posted on their sites and that they could be held liable for illegal content if they are made aware of it and don’t act to take it down.


The German law follows reports that Facebook only deleted 39% of posts within seven days in January and February, and only 33% were taken down within 24 hours. Just this week, Facebook has again come under criticism for failing to take down images of jihadist material and child pornography, despite it being reported to moderators. Twitter has also faced criticism, since only 1% of illegal posts were deleted within 24 hours.


Google introduces fact checking feature. Last October Google introduced a fact-checking feature for Google News in the UK and USA that will now be extended to general search results as well as global news search results. The feature works by displaying an information box with snippets of information about the claim, including the results of third-party fact-checkers (i.e.“fact check by PolitiFact: mostly true”). However, there have already been criticisms that conflicting conclusions could be presented, since Google will list multiple fact checking articles that could potentially contradict one another. Additionally, there’s a threat that hyperpartisan sites could present “fact check” conclusions that could still have a particular spin on the truth, since the right metadata on a page could allow anyone to be a source. While Google has said that they will only include publishers that are “algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information” in the programme, it’s unclear how an “authoritative source” is defined or determined.


Facebook’s fight against fake news. Facebook is also taking steps to fight fake news, and has rolled out an educational post, published at the top of news feeds, which intends to inform users in 14 countries about how they can identify misinformation on the platform. The campaign includes input from third-party fact-checkers, but it limits the definition of fake news to articles that set out to deceive, contain objectively provable falsehoods and pretend to be from a “legitimate” news site. This ostensibly is to avoid accusations of politically-motivated censorship.


The educational campaign was repurposed in Germany as full-page advertisements in a variety of newspapers, including Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Die Welt and Bild, potentially as a reaction to the pressure the German government is putting on social networks to curb the spread of fake news and illegal content.


Rebuilding trust in Facebook’s news feed. The abundance of fake news on Facebook’s platform has caused many users on the site to lose trust in what they see there. A new survey from Buzzfeed and Ipsos Public Affairs asked American adults whether they trusted news they read on Facebook; over half said they trust it “only a little” or “not at all.”


Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s Vice President in charge of the news feed, said that the platform will likely never be free from fake news, but that it has a responsibility to “limit the amount of time people come across [it].” In addition to the educational outreach campaign it launched, the company is also working to make it less economical for fake news creators by limiting distribution of fake news sources, since most fake news sites appears to be motivated by money as opposed to ideology. The company has also stepped up efforts to stop the spread of fake news by suspending accounts that violate its terms of service.


New ePrivacy proposal to give power to browsers. In a LIBE Committee hearing in the European Parliament earlier this week, Raoul Grünthal, CEO if Schibsted Sweden, explained how the new ePrivacy proposal will impact nearly all of Schibsted’s business areas. The proposal aims to update current rules to ensure stronger privacy in electronic communications, but it has faced criticism, particularly around regulations on cookies and opt-in mechanisms. At the hearing, Grünthal identified the forced opt-in approach to data collection as one of the more problematic issues, since this is proposed to be done at the browser level, which could turn them into “gatekeepers of the internet.”



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