Could fake news impact the general election?

Local papers sign up to new campaign highlighting the 'checks and balances' involved in reporting the news

fake news
A satirical fake news story on a local news website in London.
(Image credit: Daniel Sorabji / AFP / GETTY)

Politicians and media organisations are attempting to tackle the growing phenomenon of fake news in the run-up to the general election.

Local newspapers have signed up to the Fighting Fake News campaign, which launches today, the Press Gazette reports. It will see papers running editorials highlighting the "checks and balances involved in reporting local news".

Backed by the News Media Association, which represents UK news publishers, Fighting Fake News wants readers to recognise the "investment required to produce local journalism" versus fake news, which profits from "opaque programmatic advertising".

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In January, the culture, media and sport committee launched an inquiry into fake news, a month after Labour said it was conducting an inquiry of its own into the phenomenon, the Press Gazette says.

The committee will publish its results later in the year, while Labour's findings have been postponed to allow the party to focus on the general election.

Fake news was widely blamed for spreading misinformation during the US presidential campaign last year. Since then, pressure has mounted on major sites such as Facebook and Google to crack down on false stories.

Facebook, which called the problem a "global priority" and an "evolving challenge", the BBC says, has been criticised for not acting quickly enough to combat false stories.

Conservative Damian Collins last week told The Guardian that fake news could threaten "the integrity of democracy" because of the large numbers of people who rely on the social network site for news.

"They could be voting based on lies," he said. "It can’t just be users referring the validity of the story. They [Facebook] have to make a judgment about whether a story is fake or not."

In Germany, France and the Netherlands, Facebook is working with established media companies to ensure problematic stories are flagged up on newsfeeds. However, adds The Guardian, such efforts are further behind in the UK.

In France, which is preparing to elect its next president, Facebook has suspended 30,000 suspected automated accounts, many of which were spreading political misinformation.

Meanwhile, researchers at Oxford University last month said up to a quarter of political links posted to Twitter in France were based on false information, reported The Independent.

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