Ofcom will regulate the BBC, but who verifies the ‘news’ on Facebook?

Donald Trump becomes US President on Friday amid allegations that fake news stories about his rival Hilliary Clinton helped to sway voters.

So it is interesting to note that UK regulator Ofcom is taking on the role of regulating the BBC not any of the new digital media giants.

One would have thought that the BBC is well regulated with rigorous editorial guidelines already well- established within the organisation.

Perhaps Ofcom should be thinking about regulation of the corporations which are spewing out fake news online?

A Channel Four news team tracked down some of the authors of fake news.  Young men in Macedonia were among the culprits.

They operated a cottage industry producing fake online news stories by setting up web sites featuring untrue stories which were then regurgitated around digital and social media channels.

The Presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy in 1960 was the first presidential debate between candidates from opposing political parties in the United States as well as the first one to be televised.

Kennedy’s performance on television persuaded American voters to elect him President.

Now it is the digital media not TV which can make or break a Presidential candidate in the USA.

Other countries around the world are not immune to the power of the new digital media giants and the ‘news’ they present to us.

Nearly a third of young people aged 18 to 24 in the UK said they got their main news from social media.

The latest Digital News Report from Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism said social media is a leading source of news among online users.

More than half of online users get their news from Facebook and other social media platforms – which don’t pay for the news which is produced by other publishers.

In the UK, Ofcom is the regulator of Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Post but does not have any statutory powers over digital media channels.

Ofcom launched its proposed annual plan in an uncharacteristically quiet Stormont on Wednesday. Jonathan Rose, the Northern Ireland director said:  “Things play out slightly differently in Northern Ireland.”

He said a Memorandum of Understanding is expected to be signed between Ofcom and Stormont and in future there would be a Ofcom Board member for Northern Ireland.

Baroness Noakes, Ofcom’s deputy chair who also attended the Stormont event said regulation of the Digital Media in the UK was “Not in our statutes… not in our remit.”

Could fake news via digital media channels happen in Northern Ireland?  In a place where a heating scheme has sparked a political crisis, who knows?

If you would like to respond to Ofcom’s Proposed Annual Plan do so by February 7 more details here:

Una Murphy is co-founder of VIEWdigital which publishes VIEW social affairs magazine.