Technology companies not doing enough to combat fake news, says David Speers

Fake news poses a real threat to democracy in countries including Australia and technology companies are not doing enough to combat it, Sky News’ political editor David Speers has warned.

“Frankly they should be doing a whole lot more than they already are, because this stuff isn’t just hard for those of us in the media trying to present real news, it is a bit of a threat to our democracy, democracies like the US,” Speers told an audience of communications professionals at the Public Relations Institute of Australia’s (PRIA) conference.

Speers said “it is a bit of a threat to our democracy”

He conceded steps are now being taken to tackle the problem, but nobody will win if they don’t work.

“The technology companies, in their defence, do say they are doing things about this now, they’re using artificial intelligence to try and identify when fake news is being spread on their platforms, they are hiring more humans as well, human intelligence to try and weave out, stamp out obviously fake news.

“The fourth estate is one of the pillars of our democracy and when you start messing with the foundations of that no-one really wins,” he said.

Speers said resolving the fake news issue is a collective responsibility and “everyone’s only going to lose if this sort of stuff consumes as all”.

The political editor said although defining fake news isn’t always easy, it’s “a real problem”, which – coupled with a “far more competitive media landscape” – means journalists now have to be more innovative.

“I do think this is driving some genuinely creative journalism and photography.

“There is a space for quality reporting and discussion that rises above the pack that’s going to be watched, that’s going to be attractive to consumers.

“Journalists who can deliver something unique like that are going to thrive, those who aren’t as creative in today’s media environment are going to struggle or they’ll resort to clickbait,” Speers added.

Chasing clicks, he said, was a slippery slope and is changing the way journalism works.

“When it comes to journalism, it is a slightly different equation and pressuring journalists to chase clicks isn’t always a good thing for a news outlets or foundations of the fourth estate,” he added.

There is nothing wrong with making content relevant and interesting to readers, Speers said, but “the role of a journalist is to find information that those in power don’t always want revealed – it is about holing to hold the powerful to account”.

However, he told the room it is not all bad news for the media industry, noting Twitter, “for all its faults” can be a fantastic tool for publishers and consumers alike.

Despite Facebook and Google “hoovering ad revenue” which traditionally went to publishers, Speers said at least Austrians have access to information via social media platforms such as Twitter.

“Twitter is something that has democratised the journalism industry in many ways.

“Twitter has allowed people to go out…and create their own stories and their own following and do their own thing, that has been a really positive thing for the whole industry,” he said.

Speers noted the issues countries without access to Twitter, such as China, are facing.

“To bring some perspective to the problems we think we have, the problems the US thinks it has with fake news, we have got to remember what goes on in China.

“When it comes to Facebook and Google and Twitter and all their faults as well, at least we have them, at least we have the freedom to be able to look at these things,” Speers added.


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