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April 24, 2017updated 25 Apr 2017 10:04am

ITN on Facebook and fake news: Fairer online revenue share needed to protect public service journalism

By Freddy Mayhew

ITN has warned that fake news is a “powerful and dangerous force in our online ecosystem” as part of its submission to a parliamentary inquiry examining the issue.

The commercial broadcaster, which produces ITV News, Channel 4 News and Channel 5 News, joined rival the BBC in submitting evidence to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s “fake news” inquiry.

In its evidence, published online today, ITN called for more “transparency around the algorithms that create curated news feeds” such as those employed by Facebook and Google.

It said: “At present there are also concerns that algorithms employed by platforms such as Facebook prioritise virality of content over its veracity.”

ITN also joined Press Gazette’s call for Facebook and Google to pay more back into the news industry.

At the top of its list of “core concerns” relating to fake news, it said: “Originators of content should receive their fair share of advertising revenue from social media platforms to continue to be able to invest in quality journalism.”

Press Gazette research found that Facebook and Google take more than £1bn a year out of the UK national and regional news industry through advertising revenue.

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ITN said in its evidence: “Traditional news organisations require substantial investment and as the media environment evolves safeguards must be put in place to ensure that the work of journalists is protected and rewarded, so that power can continue to be held to account.

“Protecting the business model of journalism, particularly public service journalism, is vital and generating funds through the fair distribution of online revenue is central to this.”

In 2016, content on the Channel 4 News Facebook page – including dispatches from the Syrian conflict – received more than two billion views.

The broadcaster said there was “more to be done… to ensure that fake news sites are not either incentivised or sustained by advertising revenue”.

It added: “Legitimate news organisations are vying for their audience’s attention against the sensationalist content of other sites claiming to provide news. The top 20 fake stories about the US election were shared almost nine million times in the three months up until last November, making them more popular than the top 20 real stories.

“Those stories, produced at a fraction of the cost of a legitimate news story, would have attracted significant advertising revenue for both the sites and for social media platforms. Social media platforms have tried to address this and as a result Google banned 200 fraudulent sites off its advertising network. Facebook changed its ‘trending topic’ feature to include only substantiated news sources.”

But the broadcaster said Facebook’s offer of a mid-roll advert in videos created by legitimate news publishers, as a means of increasing revenue income from advertising, was “not appropriate for the vast majority of news content” because of the sensitive nature of much of it.

ITN also raised the issue of inadequate copyright protection for original content on social media platforms, saying one in three of its 300m online videos were seen on sites “that had stolen the material”.

ITN listed its “core concerns” relating to fake news as the following:

  • Originators of content should receive their fair share of advertising revenue from social media platforms to continue to be able to invest in quality journalism
  • Transparency around the algorithms that prioritise “news” stories on social media platforms is needed to ensure viral content from dubious sites is not presented as news
  • Advertising revenue sustains and incentivises fake news sites to create more content – greater transparency around programmatic advertising is needed along with action from platforms to block this
  • The majority of audiences consuming content online do not differentiate between or recognise that various news sources will apply different editorial standards: this means that mainstream media is losing its credibility in the public consciousness as a source of impartial and accurate journalism
  • Platforms that publish ‘news’ sources indiscriminately need to take responsibility for the impact of this on the news ecosystem and work quickly to create safeguards
  • Deliberately planted false stories which gain momentum amongst specific audiences have potential to effect the outcome of democratic processes such as elections and referendums
  • The term fake news has been consistently misappropriated by those who decry accurate but negative coverage as “fake news” – this has undermined its usage when applied accurately to coverage that [which] is intentionally false
  • Echo chambers created by social media platforms conflate hyperpartisan coverage and false stories with mainstream media coverage which reinforces existing biases among communities
  • Now more than at any other time the need for investment in quality journalism and fact checking is paramount, for both responsible platforms and responsible publishers.

In its submission, the BBC said: “Social media, and particularly Facebook, amplify these [fake news] stories and can enable their authors to make large sums from online advertising.”

Facebook and Google both entered evidence to the committee’s inquiry.

Google said: “Google remains committed to making the most useful and relevant information easily accessible to our users — that’s how Google Search got started. The quality of information available on the web is a concern for everyone, and we are determined to do our part in addressing the issues it raises for our users, partners, and for the news ecosystem.

“We will continue to work hard to support newsrooms and to improve our own products in order to tackle this important and complicated issue together.”

Facebook said: “Facebook is a new kind of platform. We build technology, and we feel responsible for how it is used. We don’t write the news that people read on the platform.

“But we also know that we do more than just distribute news, and we play an important role in the conversations people have. The amount of news and content available continues to increase quickly, and people only have so much time in the day to consume it.

“We want to make sure that people’s time on Facebook is spent engaging with authentic and meaningful content.

“We want to incentivise the good and make sure a healthy news ecosystem can thrive so that people can be informed and have conversations about authentic, meaningful content. We believe a strong news industry is critical to building an informed community. Giving people a voice is not enough without having people dedicated to uncovering new information, analyzing and reporting it.

“We know that people are coming to Facebook to get their news and we take our role in the media ecosystem seriously. We want to ensure that news purveyors— publishers, broadcasters, journalists — can thrive on our platform.

“We think this is good for the people who use Facebook, and we also think it’s the responsible thing to do. We’re working closely with our media partners and listening to their feedback to help them monetize their content and build their businesses.”

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