Fake News Battle Crucial As Gen Z Turns Off TV News

The importance of tackling fake news suddenly seems more pressing this morning this side of the Atlantic, as well as in Washington.

The day after Mueller summed up the threat of Russian interference in US elections as one of the most serious challenges to American democracy he has come across, along comes some surprising research from the UK's media regulator, Ofcom.

It emerges that Gen Z has all but given up on watching the television news. The average 16- to-24-year-old watches just two minutes. Older generations watch more, rising to just over half an hour per day for those of retirement age. 

According to the Ofcom research, Facebook is the third-most trusted source for gathering news, after the BBC and ITV. It is hardly surprising to find that the figures show a half of the UK population gets its news from social media. That is pretty much exactly the same figure who get their news from newspapers or the sites and apps operated by news brands. 

We have hit a state of equilibrium where the indirect route, via social media, is as important to people as the direct route of buying a paper or opening up a newspaper's app.

It is this equilibrium that has allowed our own citizens, but also state-paid actors with ill intent, to spread disinformation.

The Telegraphhas a breakdown of how many countries are spreading good news about themselves, and it is not impossible to then imagine potentially being behind fake news abroad that suits their foreign policy objectives. And yes, Russia and China are on the list.

It is for this reason that parliament has already concluded an investigation into online practices, including a look at disinformation -- you can download a pdf of the findings here.

In a nutshell, MPs told the Government of the pressing need to make social media sites responsible for monitoring fake news and taking down disinformation and harmful content.

The report also concluded that after Zuckerberg failed to show up for a hearing, two Facebook execs who did appear were either ill-informed on fake news or were instructed to misguide parliament about their knowledge of it. 

It was pretty damning stuff, and we will have to see whether its recommendations for an independent regulator of social media happens and whether the Government places a greater onus on the social media firms to protect the public from fake news and take down harmful content within a specified time frame.

It's a subject worth revisiting when one realises that not only is there an equilibrium for adults between social media and newspapers. but also that young people are switching off the tv news, presumably picking up their information and headlines from social. 

It's also crucial because there is a likelihood that a government with a shaky majority of two will at some stage in the coming months either willingly call an election or be forced to.

Just watch the fake news fly around then as the country votes, again, to decide our future. 

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