Lok Sabha polls to be a test of new social media curbs: Oxford study

2019 Lok Sabha polls,fake news,social media

Curbs imposed by social media companies in India to prevent virality and fake news will be tested during the Lok Sabha elections this year, according to a new research report from the University of Oxford that perceives the elections as “polarising”.

Titled ‘Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends and Predictions 2019’, the report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford says the elections in India, Indonesia and Europe in 2019 will be “likely flashpoints” on the issue of regulation of platform companies.

“Polls this year in India and Indonesia will be key tests of social media’s new defences”, the report says, noting the press and television campaigns by social media companies in India on the dangers of sharing false news.

“(The) spread of false, misleading and extreme content will continue to undermine democracies around the world with polarising elections in India, Indonesia and Europe likely flashpoints…In India a rise of intolerance and religious hatred has coincided with the rapid growth of social media.”

“Political parties and other activists have set up thousands of WhatsApp groups in order to spread messages, many of which will be hard to monitor openly. A recent BBC study suggested that many Indians feel as though they had a patriotic duty to forward information and that the validation of belief systems often ‘trumps the verification of the facts’,” the report says.

Noting that social media was once seen as an enabler of free information, helping citizens to break free from elite gatekeepers such as journalists, the report adds that this may still be true in developed societies, but events last year have shown how different the situation can be in countries like India, the Philippines, Myanmar and Brazil.

“When just a handful of apps provide the main way in which most people access and share information, the risks of misinformation and manipulation increase exponentially. It should be added that much of the manipulation is carried out by domestic political elites running organised, large-scale, and well-funded campaigns,” it says.

Based on a survey of 200 editors, CEOs, and digital leaders, the report finds that subscription and membership will be the key priority for the news industry going forward. There is also a growing acceptance that some types of quality news provision might need to be subsidised.

The news industry, the report by Nic Newsman says, is losing patience with Facebook and publishers are re-focusing attention elsewhere. Over three-quarters (78%) of those surveyed think it is important to invest more in Artificial Intelligence to help secure the future of journalism – but not as an alternative to employing more editors.

“This will be the year when the regulation of platform companies starts to bite following growing concern about misinformation, privacy, and market power. Something once considered unthinkable has become ‘inevitable’, in the words of Apple boss Tim Cook – though the details will be messy, hard-fought, and take time to play out”, the report adds.