back to article Online disinformation is an industry that needs regulation, says boffin

Society should treat disinformation as the product of an industry worthy of regulation, not a crime committed by individuals, according to Dr Ross Tapsell, a senior lecturer and researcher at the Australian National University's College of Asia and the Pacific. "Trust in media is on the decline," said Tapsell, who further …

  1. Ordinary Donkey

    Interesting concept

    Sounds like it will end up with every political post coming with a content warning, which won't be a bad idea.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Interesting concept

      But what do you do when EVERYTHING, even recommendations from the medical community, have become political?

      I imagine some people would read the above sentence and think it has a political slant, and therefore deserve such a warning. If everything you say is required to have a disclaimer, then such content warnings become worthless. Its like putting the green padlock on HTTPS sites. When almost every site is HTTPS, it is meaningless especially if people think that means more than it really does.

      There are objective facts, like the Earth is a sphere not a flat plate. There are consensus opinions of the overwhelming majority of experts, like covid-19 vaccines are safe and effective and necessary to reach herd immunity and get the pandemic under control. There are political opinions with no "right" answer, like the best way to improve the economy, reduce crime, etc. These are at three different levels, and should be treated differently.

      1. SundogUK Silver badge

        Re: Interesting concept

        "There are consensus opinions of the overwhelming majority of experts..."

        You do understand that experts lie? That scientists say whatever they think will give them funding? That a huge number of peer-reviewed research papers cannot be reproduced? Are in fact fraudulent?

        1. batfink Silver badge

          Re: Interesting concept

          Well for a start you've missed the OP's "overwhelming majority" rider.

          However you clearly don't understand how science works. Yes, there are peer-reviewed papers whose results cannot be reproduced and/or are fraudulent. So, when they can't be reproduced, they are discredited. This is the whole point of the process.

          What you seem to be trying to say is "all experts lie and can't be trusted, therefore we should believe any old shit".

          1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

            Re: Interesting concept

            What happens when the results cannot be checked eg when they are crystal ball gazing and predicting events 150 years in the future?

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Interesting concept

      That's like California's Prop 65 warnings ("contains stuff that might cause cancer or reproductive harm") which is literally on everything, including coffee.

      What use is that?

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: Interesting concept

        Yep, once you have warnings on everything, people will ignore them. You need to either reserve them for things that are shown to be really bad (and have a separate category for "we aren't sure about this so take your chances if you want to be extra cautious") or have some sort of grading system of risk. Maybe a rating of 1-5 for least to most potential carcinogens, but instead of stars have skulls and crossbones. Of course then you will have people wondering "if that 5 skulls and crossbones thing is so bad, why are they even allowed to sell it to the public?" so maybe you need to have a scale of 1-5 but tell people it is 1-6.

        I get that you want to warn people there are contents inside that some studies have shown have a possible link to harm, but that doesn't really educate them as to how much risk. Is it something that may well kill you in a few decades and is waiting for one major study to finish peer review before being confirmed conclusively and probably getting pulled off the market not longer after that? Or is it one small study that failed peer review and otherwise the substance (e.g. coffee for example) has been consumed by billions of people for many decades without any proof of harm?

        Perhaps this is why we have people like the above poster who simply claims "experts lie", because they are so confused by the way relative risk is presented to the public that they just throw up their hands and say "no one can be trusted, so the opinion of some rando making a Youtube video should be given equal weight to someone who spend a decade getting an advanced degree and another 20 years researching in the field."

        1. Falmari Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: Interesting concept

          @DS999 "scale of 1-5 but tell people it is 1-6." Up vote for that alone, made me smile. :)

        2. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

          Re: Interesting concept

          I think you are being over generous to some who are operating on an agenda where facts and science come a distant second to the agenda.

      2. EricB123

        Re: Interesting concept

        I bought a mechanical pencil in California that had the Prop 65 label on it. Maybe if I grind the thing up and snort it I would sneeze.

  2. Headley_Grange Silver badge

    It's The Sun Wot Won It

    Just make it illegal for the press to tell lies instead of relying on expensive libel laws. So when the Express runs the headline "Stubborn Macron demands EU orders UK to accept hated fishing deal" the editor either has to have proof that Macron made such demands. If it turns out that he's simply pointed out that all parties have to abide by the agreement that was made, then the editor of the Express goes to jail for a few months.

    There would, of course, have to be a parody exception for the Reg's Super Cali......... headlines.

  3. Potemkine! Silver badge

    You cannot tackle fake news by laws but by education.

    1. Headley_Grange Silver badge

      @Potemkine!: Years ago I would have agreed with you, but now I really struggle with what's happening today and why. There are some very well educated people who are ardently anti-vaccine or believe that Trump won or that the Earth is flat. I think that the problem today is that the concept of an expert has all-but disappeared. I don't need an expert for anything today because I can educate myself - i.e. go online and watch a few vids and I'm set.

      In my parents' times there were experts and trusted sources and they were listened to, respected, believed - obeyed even. I think that in the UK certainly there's been an element of democratization that has changed things for the worse. People used to sort of know their place - there was a concept of authority - police, doctors, teachers, the BBC, and people respected and trusted them. Now that's been diluted and, today, 7+ years of medical training is given the same credence as 20 minutes watching videos and reading Wikipedia and Facebook. Maybe the problem is that knowledge had been democratized but understanding hasn't - we've all become dilettantes.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        > concept of an expert has all-but disappeared

        I think the concept of "someone that actually knows what they're talking about" has disappeared, because 1) "of COURSE *I* know what I'm talking about!!" and 2) there's a lot of bullshit artists out there

      2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

        Do not confuse people with diplomas and educated people.

        I've met some fucking idiots who had a master's degree.

        A diploma only means you have knowledge. It does not mean you have education.

        1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

          I've upvoted you even though I'm not certain of your last paragraph in terms of the amount of knowledge needed these days to get the diploma.

    2. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Not really... people don't listen. Or really think about things. They've made up their minds AND YOU ARE WRONG!

      You can bring the horse to water but you can't make him drink.

      1. the Jim bloke Silver badge

        .. but there is probably a youtube video about how to install an intravenous saline drip..

      2. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

        <<They've made up their minds AND YOU ARE WRONG!>>

        Almost right <G>

        Someone has made their mind up, now there's consensus so no need to think, no need to challenge perceived wisdom.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          The point is, how do you stop the hopelessly stupid from taking the rest of us with them, particularly when stupid is UP TOP?

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      News, propaganda, and deliberate misinformation are basically the same stuff. I'd argue that regulation would need to cover all of these. You also might have to forbid the government from lying. That could be tricky. The estimable CJ Cregg was shown lying to the press as a part of her job. If you can't trust her, who can you?

      BBC radio recently reported on an extraordinary... thing in how people think about their money. I am afraid to name it.

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct1xzv

      The BBC may have made this up. But if there really is a community of people believing in that, religiously as it seems... my impulse is to give up.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        "You also might have to forbid the government from lying. That could be tricky."

        You mean nigh-impossible. After all, how do you prevent a sovereign power from just changing the rules again? Worse, any potential overseer can itself be corrupted to follow along; it's the human condition.

    4. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

      Fully agree, if by education you mean teaching people to think rather than pouring a mixture of facts, lies and opinions in.

      NOTE: I make no suggestion of the relative proportions of each ingredient currently poured.

  4. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

    The only possible regulator would be the government. That's the same governments who have discovered that populism, social media and control of public service broadcasting to spread misinformation and general claptrap that appeals to people's base instincts are a much more effective means of gaining power than reasoned debate and cold hard facts. And that it's reasonable to do that because power for power's sake is the most important thing to them, principles being for losers.

    Add to this mix the determination to spread the idea that science is just a bunch of opinions that you can choose whether to believe or not, like any other political debate, and we have a recipe for stupidity-based decline that is vastly appealing to many people.

    The only way this will change is when enough people actually experience the terrible consequences of it that they decide that reality and truth are preferable to conspiracy theories and prejudice-confirming lies. And realise that the bullshit is being spread because it's in the interests of those spreading it, not those consuming it.

    1. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

      That's the same governments who believe they have an absolute right to control everything about your life, what you can say, what you can think, all in the name of a long debunked 19th century ideology, responsible for the deaths of millions?

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

      And what happens when most people experience the terrible consequences and just go, "This is fine..."?

    3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      "And realise that the bullshit is being spread because it's in the interests of those spreading it, not those consuming it. "

      Reality check : there are still people supporting Trump.

      That realization is going to take one hell of a lot of time.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Reality check : there are still people supporting Trump.

        And there are still people suporting Biden. But such is politics. Often support is based on subjective beliefs rather than facts that could be checked. But then being politics, beliefs become facts. Or are just presented as facts because that's politically expedient.

        Orange man bad! Grey man good!

        Meanwhile, some 'fact checking' goes on in the background. Like there's still a number of election audits ongoing in the US. They're unlikely to change the outcome, but they could improve the US electoral system. Or give people more confidence in that system. Or not, because many people have already been told that it's all 'fake news', and believe it.. Even though often the people who claim to be 'fact checkers' cannot have been in possession of the facts.

        Same is true with stuff like Covid. At the beginning of the pandemic, there was much speculation and not much in the way of facts. Challenging 'facts' could and did lead to sanctions and de-platforming, even if some of those 'facts' have turned out to be false. Or just overstated.

        But again such is politics. It's something that's been prevalent in the climate debate for the last couple of decades, with some pretty dire consequences. Climate change leads to extreme weather, therefore we must build energy policy around systems that are most vulnerable to the weather. Or the way groups like 'Extinction Rebellion' have piled into the debate.. They're unashamedly about social change, but happily use climate change as a pretext to get activists involved.

        But a lot of this goes back to education. If people are just conditioned to consume 'facts' from supposedly trusted parties, it's easier to spread your memes.. So for example the Bbc is incredibly subjective wrt climate change, and frequently gets it's facts wrong. And assuming people twig to this, people stop trusting them as 'reliable sources'.

      2. Cederic Silver badge

        That realisation is why. All those lies - for instance have you seen the number of times the NY Times has had to retract and apologise recently?

    4. batfink Silver badge

      Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

      I agree that any regulation would have to be at government level, but which government?

      What's fine in (say) the US may not be fine in (say) Malaysia. If something is hosted in neither of these countries, but their citizens can access it, how would their governments regulate it?

      Then we're into "Great Firewall" territory and none of us want that.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

        Are we sure about that? Without some kind of national balkanization, foreign sovereignty will always be able to overpower any one country's ability to control information. Sure, it's perhaps not the most enlightened of examples, but perhaps China is actually onto something.

        1. nijam Silver badge

          Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

          > perhaps China is actually onto something

          Yes, they fear that other governments will do unto them what they already are busying themselves with worldwide.

    5. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

      The only way this will change is when enough people actually experience the terrible consequences of it that they decide that reality and truth are preferable to conspiracy theories and prejudice-confirming lies. .... Howard Sway

      Actually, it only takes a smarter few to know what to do to change everything*, HS. And they are busying themselves at it even as we speak.

      GrahamC [2108261358] ....... makes a generous offer on https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2021/8/26/major-changes-proposed-to-buy-american-rules

      determining whether an item qualifies as “domestic end product” or “domestic construction material”

      Which nowadays, is much more a smarter starter precursor item rather than any failed finalised end composite product or ingredient .... for Mass Multi Media Presentation and Advanced IntelAIgent Realisation via Officially Authorised Virtually Augmented AI Means and Memes.

      Although quite who and/or what signs off on that being Perfectly Acceptable is an Engagement of Heavenly Thoughts, methinks to know.

      Is that facility and ability highly active in your times and spaces? ..... which are surely just as Alien Places and Live Operational Virtual Environments to be further personally developed in successful Future Market Engagements in Pioneering Programs Delivering Pathfinder Projects?

      Does anyone have anything similar or easier controlled than that readily available offer delivered directly to here for peer review/suitable secret source assessment ‽ .

      * ..... and if necessary to fcuk up everything too, pdq, if the wannabe powers that presently be do not wish to play Greater IntelAIgent Games.

      What sort of a moronic fool denies the truth and prefers an alternate reality requiring a steady continual chain of made up lies for extant systems to function extremely poorly .... apart from those certifiably insane and most likely wantonly evil too, that is?

      And now that that question has been asked, is an arrogant, ignorance in such matters, defence no longer available and viable.

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Who's going to regulate the disinformation then?

        You may like to start thinking and realising that systems are not really bothered by nor worried about disinformation. It is the accurate and sensitive information that they cannot convincingly dispute and would try to prevent appearing for audiences to see that has them terrorising administrations and creating themselves increasingly smarter mortal enemies, both physical and virtual, with deadly effective friends in a whole lotta novel spaces and safe and secure places.

        Discover what is neither unlawful nor illegal but in any case thought not fit to print and freely share with one's peers, and you have found a foundational keystone which cannot be removed if attacked for it supports the entire edifice of a crumbling project.

        Such is pure raw hard core 0day vulnerability exploit gold. And worth an absolute fortune both whenever told and/or kept COSMIC Top Secret.

  5. Brennan Young

    "The researcher added that those who do not trust the media will turn to unofficial channels to seek out information and news."

    ...so the mainstream media must become more trustworthy, right?

    The problem is that even supposed "media of record" (NYT, BBC etc.) really do mislead, they really do peddle propaganda, and people really have noticed this. The broader mainstream news is even worse. The headlines scream, the retractions whisper. (If the retractions come at all, which they often don't).

    Example: The BBC admitted in 2009 that the so-called Tiananmen square massacre didn't happen at all the way it was reported in the west - the infamous tale of soldiers opening fire on unarmed demonstrators in the square appears to be pure propaganda. ("we are far less certain of killings on Tiananmen proper. There were probably few, if any." wrote BBC journalist James Miles - link below). This was later confirmed in the wikileaks diplomatic cable dump (and was covered by the Daily Telegraph).

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8057762.stm

    And yet every single year, this mythical event is still commemorated by... the BBC, with none of the caveats or nuance touched upon by James Miles, or in the wikileaks cables. I can only conclude that the BBC (etc.) know exactly what they are doing: They are producing propaganda. This was an anti-china case. There are hundreds of other 'targets', left and right. Decent, innocent people are routinely demonized, doubts are cast, stereotypes thrive, and actual corruption amongst power elites (especially those on "our side") goes almost entirely without challenge, and "dead cat" misdirection is a regular feature. Is anyone genuinely surprised that people do not trust the mainstream media? Only the people who still believe it represents reality, I guess.

    But whenever the topic of fake news comes up, those supposedly more "truthful" mainstream media organs are somehow let off the hook. This is very much part of the problem. I also see the "old guard" media (especially liberal columnists) wringing their hands and spreading FUD about the upstart digital alternatives. The fact is, their business is under threat, and they're kicking up a stink at those who understand better what people are looking for in news: Being able to recognise the conditions of their own existence in the narrative presented.

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