A government has decided to handle “fake news” in about the only way it should be handled. FINALLY. While most governments appear willing to treat “fake news” legislation as a gateway drug to censorship, the UK government — a government that certainly isn’t known for its rational handling of speech issues — is going the other way.
It’s a decision that treats the term with all the respect it deserves: none.
The government has banned the term “fake news” after urging ministers to use “misinformation” or “disinformation” instead.
The phrase – a favourite of US President Donald Trump – will no longer appear in policy documents or official papers because it is “a poorly-defined and misleading term that conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference in democratic processes,” officials said.
This is a shocking development. While some government figures have recognized the term is divisive and generally means nothing more than “stuff I don’t like,” most have felt compelled to do something about it. A lot of this “something” has presented itself as pressure applied to social media platforms. For other governments with a more authoritarian bent, the term has proven to be a handy way to directly control new agencies and third-party content posted to social media services.
The UK’s clearheaded stance isn’t likely to be adopted by others. It returns too much control to citizens and strips the term of its power. But this is the way governments should approach the loaded term: by first admitting they have a problem. A nebulous term that acts as a partisan dog whistle should be eliminated from governments’ vocabulary. As is suggested here, it should be replaced with clearly defined terms far less likely to be abused by politicians looking to score easy points in front of the home team crowd.
“We recommend that the Government rejects the term ‘fake news’, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. With such a shared definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations, and the Government to follow, there will be a shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement,” [the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee] stated.
This is a remarkable turnaround, considering only a few months ago DCMS members were going after Facebook for contributing to the “fake news that threatens our democracy.” Included in this package of adopted recommendations is (surprise!) the abandonment of a social media tax targeting Facebook and Twitter — two companies routinely blamed for the incredible amount of stupidity and misleading content posted by their users.
Some sanity has prevailed somewhere in the world. Let’s try to enjoy that.
Read more: techdirt.com