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26 February 2021

Social media firms 'must lead efforts' to combat misinformation

Social media firms must take responsibility for the spread of harmful misinformation on their platforms and lead efforts to stamp it out, a panel of experts has said.

Governance and Media in an age of Misinformation

At the webinar Governance and Media in an age of Misinformation, guests heard that firms including Facebook and Twitter had allowed misinformation to flourish over the last decade and the consequences had started to become tangible in recent events such as the storming of the US capitol and in COVID-19 conspiracy theories.

Panellists at the event, on 18 February, included Damian Collins MP, co-founder of Infotagion, Brooke Binkowski, journalist with the Truth or Fiction website, Professor Helen Margetts, from the Oxford Internet Institute, and Carl Miller, research director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media.

The audience heard about the impact on misinformation on journalism, its role in shaping political discourse, its implications on efforts to tackle COVID-19 and its weaponisation by malicious actors.

Mr Collins told the audience: “It used to be that the worst thing someone could do was go to Hyde Park Corner and shout their views at anyone who would listen but now, through social media, these views have the potential to reach millions of people around the world.”

Mr Collins said he “couldn’t believe” conspiracy theory movements such as QAnon would ever have been able to flourish without the aid of social media and its system of algorithms.

Ms Binkowski said Facebook had shown through its recent news ban in Australia that it had the power to act quickly and on a wide scale if it chose to do so but she stressed that social media users also had a role to play.

She said: “If you see a politician promoting what you know to be untrue, call them out on it. You have a responsibility to act if you see disinformation.”

The event was part of the School of Politics and Economics Practitioner Series, which continues on 4 March with Civil Service Reform: From Fulton to Cummings. You can find out more here.

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Rod  Dacombe

Reader in Politics