IPSO Blog: Truth, trust and technology

Policy and Public Affairs Officer Sophie Malleson on LSE’s Truth, Trust and Technology Commission report, “Tackling the Information Crisis”.

On Tuesday, LSE’s Truth, Trust and Technology Commission released its report, “Tackling the Information Crisis: A Policy Framework for Media Systems Resilience”. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the issues of quality journalism, fake news, and supporting edited and curated media.

The report identifies what it describes as ‘crisis of trust in information’ which results in harm to society. It argues this crisis is manifested in ‘five giant evils’ which impact citizens: confusion, cynicism, fragmentation, irresponsibility and apathy.

  • Confusion – because citizens are less sure who to believe.
  • Cynicism – because citizens are losing trust.
  • Fragmentation – because despite access to potentially infinite information, the pool of agreed facts is diminishing.
  • Irresponsibility – because the use and abuse of platforms is amplifying the reach of misinformation.
  • Apathy – because citizens begin to disengage from society as they lose faith.

Professor Sonia Livingstone, Chair of the Commission, explains more about these problems in her blog on the report and notes that there’s a threat at multiple levels and in different spheres – from individual decision-making to democratic government.

I think the report raises some interesting questions for existing regulators of news. IPSO enforces the Editors’ Code of Practice, which is the set of rules which our member publications have agreed to follow. The first clause covers accuracy, and says “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information or images, including headlines not supported by the text.” One of our roles is to promote accuracy, but the Code does not mention ‘truth’. The two words are often used synonymously, but in regulatory terms it is not necessarily possible for us to make definitive rulings on what that might be. 

Of course, on some occasions, simple factual inaccuracies can be easily spotted and are often speedily rectified by a newspaper. In other instances, the arguments about truth and fact are deeply complex with no straight answers. For example, attempting to ascertain whether an article has been inaccurate or misleading (in other words, hasn’t “told the truth”) can be challenging. For example, specialists reporting on the results of a large scientific study may reach different conclusions based on the study’s data – and both interpretations may be entirely justified. But it’s the accuracy of reporting this that’s important – the press must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.

The report also makes a number of interesting recommendations around media literacy, including that “the government should mobilise an urgent, integrated, new programme in media literacy.” Media literacy is certainly an area of interest for IPSO, and will be a focus of our work over the next year.

We want all citizens to have appropriate levels of media literacy to make informed decisions about what sorts of news they would like to access. They should be able to identify and avoid harmful fake news, and know how to identify curated and edited content displaying high-quality journalism. We are also working toward ensuring that more readers have awareness of the methods available to seek redress from the regulated press when journalists do get things wrong.

We believe that independent regulation has a key role to play in this, by holding publishers accountable to an external set of standards and helping consumers to easily identify edited, curated, professionally produced products.

You can read the report here