Government moots public awareness campaign amid 'fake news' ban

Government departments have dropped the 'poorly defined and misleading' phrase 'fake news' as part of a strategy intended to protect democracy and crack down on online manipulation.

Government has responded to DCMS select committee inquiry into disinformation
Government has responded to DCMS select committee inquiry into disinformation

In its response to the interim report of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s inquiry on disinformation, the government has agreed the term 'fake news' is a concern and pledged to move away from the phrase.

"We agree that 'fake news' is a poorly defined and misleading term that conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference in democratic processes," states the response.

"Over the past several months during its work on this issue the Government has sought to move away from 'fake news' and instead has sought to address 'disinformation' and wider online manipulation."

The DCMS committee recommended an agreed definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations and the government to follow, to allow for "shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement".

Consistent terms are now being used by government through its departments and documents, with disinformation defined as "the deliberate creation and sharing of false and/or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either for the purposes of causing harm, or for political, personal or financial gain".

In addition, it says misinformation refers to "the inadvertent sharing of false information".

The government’s response comes as the DCMS select committee continues to work on its final report of the inquiry, due to be published in December.

Among its commitments, the government said it wants to ensure that "all citizens have the digital literacy skills needed to spot dangers, critically assess the content they consume and navigate their lives online".

It is considering the "best ways of reaching an adult audience through comms campaigns", it said, in response to the DCMS select committee’s calls for a unified public awareness initiative, funded in part by a tech company levy.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office rapid-response unit – established in April this year with an important part of its remit being to deal with disinformation – has an uncertain future as it received funding only until October.  

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