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Ofcom takes aim at social media

The chief executive of UK regulator Ofcom, Sharon White, has warned regulatory action may be on its way for social media sites that publish news, in a move that brings the platform or publisher debate to the fore. She says that “online companies need to be much more accountable when it comes to curating and policing the content on their platforms, where this risks harm to the public”, but while welcoming actions by the major online players, “we consider that the argument for independent regulatory oversight of their activities has never been stronger.” White continued: “Such a regime would need to be based on transparency and a set of clear underpinning principles. In practice, this would place much greater scrutiny on how effectively the online platforms respond to harmful content to protect consumers, with powers for a regulator to enforce standards, and act if these are not met.” As part of the evidence base that will shape Ofcom’s regulatory proposals, which should come this autumn, it has published two qualitative research reports on what people think and feel about news, and how they consume it. The findings include that online news is playing an increasing role – almost two-thirds of people use the internet for news; social media has blurred the boundaries between news and other content; and people often engage with news in passive and shallow ways. Further, while people are aware of concerns about online news they can’t articulate what these mean in practice. Some try to counteract these concerns by relying on shortcuts and intuition to assess the reliability of news – but these mechanisms have limited effect. These challenges sit within a broader context of distrust in media and other institutions, says Ofcom. The research is here.

  • Monday, 23 July 2018

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