Fake news is not new. It’s been around for hundreds of years, it’s just the speed of distribution that’s changed. Well that’s according to Ioannis Zografos, Head and Managing Producer for the web TV platform of the European People’s Party (EPP) Group in the European Parliament.
EPP Group is the largest political group in the European Parliament. It brings together centre and centre-right pro-European political forces from 27 member states of the European Union. Mr. Zografos who is in-charge of the group’s video communication strategy talks to TheNewsMarket about fake news and how the EPP Group is tackling it.
Impact of Internet Revolution and Social Media on Political Communication
In today’s fast changing media landscape, Mr. Zografos says: “The biggest challenge is the internet revolution, and the appearance of social media, which increases the scope of political communication.”
For the EPP Group, social media is not merely a publication platform for its views, it’s an important distribution channel for good quality content. Mr. Zografos says: “Our role in political communication is not only to have videos for social media, which have different qualities and characteristics, but also to have broadcast videos that news outlets (especially television channels) can use.”
The Fake News Phenomenon
Fake news has played a role on the recent political campaigns in France and the US. Yet Mr Zografos told TheNewsMarket that it’s not a new phenomenon. “It has been there since mankind was able to communicate, but the challenge today is – its influence and the speed at which it spreads. It takes about a fraction of a second for a fake news to go viral on the Internet. Fake news is a challenge for every political organisation that wants to promote its message. Organisations must take this phenomenon into account and create a rapid reaction taskforce to deal with it.”
So how do brands and political groups like the EPP go about combatting fake news? “We are aware of the crucial importance to have a prompt reaction to any fake news that affect our campaigns and our political position. First of all, we try to be proactive by giving the right and correct information before them.”
He adds: “In the event of a fake news attack on our campaign or our position, we are prepared to react promptly. When we detect a fake news going viral, we try to promote the right information and push it to the same extend as the fake news was spread, which technically is not always easy, but we are working hard to do that. The most important thing is to have personnel with great political awareness who are able to provide the correct answers immediately, as soon as the fake news comes to life.”
The Fightback Begins…
According to Mr Zografos, transparency is key and the positions and policies of the EPP Group need to be clear, correctly stated and explained in videos and on social media campaigns.
“Tools like our online newsroom, built and managed by TheNewsMarket, play a crucial role in helping us disseminate the right information to our audiences and the media. It is important that our message is understood correctly.”
Mr Zografos also pointed out that the aim of fake news can often be personal rather than political, because political issues tend to open a debate rather than close it down.
“The people that disseminate fake news want to avoid political debate, they don’t want political confrontation. For instance, a few months ago there was a report voted by the European Parliament and some fake news came out… saying that this report will force Orthodox religion countries like Greece, Bulgaria, Romania for instance to change and that they would not be allowed to practice their religion. We immediately reacted and we explained what the report was saying and that it had nothing to do with the false allegation of these media.”
Mr Zografos believes that major social media platforms and ISPs such as Google, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook need to do more in trying to fight fake news.
“The problem is when you have two billions users and you have so many posts published every second it is technically difficult to manage all this, which I can understand, but you cannot rely on an algorithm, as they do today in order to find out what is a fake news, what is insulting, what is terrorist propaganda or not. You cannot rely on algorithm because an intelligent hacker or a social media addict can cheat with this. Facebook has about 4,000 employees that are working on these issues, but I do think this is not a question of number but rather a question of knowledge. They need competent people who are well aware, well informed, that have the cultural and intellectual level to be able to deal with this, which is not always the case now.”
He adds: “Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It’s about the freedom for anyone to publish different political and other opinions. However, basic media laws have to apply for social media platforms and ISPs when they allow users to publish insulting, subject to libel or offensive texts or videos. In case of fake news dissemination, social media should be subject to publishers’ responsibility laws wherever they apply. They have also to insure the right of reply of the offended party at same extend as the offending posts.
For example, there is (maybe it’s taken down today) a channel on YouTube which is saying that every man is a rapist. How can you allow things like that? Taking into account that YouTube (which is owned by Google) pays approximately £6-7 for every 1,000 views, and they pay money for these offensive videos, this is incredible: how can you pay money to people spreading hate speech or racist and terrorist propaganda?”
Finally we asked Mr Zografos what the European Union is doing about fake news and are there any laws in place to prosecute the purveyors of misinformation?
“There are regulations. The General Data Protection Regulations (GDPRs) will be updated next March making it more appropriate and closer to today’s reality. To tackle fake news there is a task force in the Council of Ministers and the twitter @EUvsDisinfo (EU Mythbusters) account that deals mostly with fake news coming from Russia but also the EU can act on the business level”.
He concludes: “A year ago also, the EU Commission signed an agreement of understanding with the major social media platforms expecting them to deal and close down accounts and posts spreading hate speech, within 24 hours once users have signaled them. Despite some progress, the results so far were not very encouraging as less than half of the cases were dealt accordingly.”
Fake news is not going to go away anytime soon. But the truth is that brands and political groups, such as the EPP Group, businesses and the society as whole, will quite clearly benefit from an update of the existing EU legislation to reflect the current state of play.