All media needs to be regulated if it is to be trusted

Comment from Peter Saxon.

Sunday was World Radio Day. This year’s theme, Radio and Trust could not be more timely.

Over recent years mainstream media (MSM) has taken a battering from what was once fringe media. They’re the ones that peddle misinformation and straight out lies about vaccinations, climate change and the like, while labelling real journalism as “fake news.”

But at least, news and views outlets, including radio stations, which are run by real people with real names and publicly available contact information are subject to rules and legal consequences if they spread misinformation that has an impact on real people’s lives.

In Australia, and most western countries, radio stations must be licensed and subject to a raft of conditions overseen by a statutory body such as the Australian Communications & Media Authority (ACMA). The ACMA stated mission is to “Regulate communications and media to maximise the economic and social benefits of communications infrastructure, services and content for Australia.”

Confidence that radio and other MSM is independently regulated, is contactable and accountable, is essential to maintaining the public’s trust.

Of course, none of that seems to apply to the social media giants who are the main enablers of fake news by providing every ratbag that harbours a conspiracy theory or “alternative facts” with a platform from which to spread their poison far and wide.

In November last year, Prime Minster Scott Morrison announced that his government would soon introduce new legislation to bring socials into line. “The rules that exist in the real world must exist in the digital and online world. The online world shouldn’t be a wild west, where bots and bigots and trolls and others can anonymously go around and harm people and hurt people,” said Mr Morrison.

To date, the push-back from the social giants has been the absurd proposition that they are merely a platform for free speech and not a publisher – and, therefore have no direct responsibility for what third parties say and do.

Just the other week, Spotify tried the same thing on when artists, led by Neil Young, started pulling their music off the streaming platform in protest of it hosting the Joe Rogan podcast with its anti-vax stance. Next it was revealed that Rogan repeatedly used the N-word.

It’s a joke to think that Spotify paid Rogan $US 100 million for exclusive rights to his show but has little influence over what goes to air on their platform. Since then both Spotify and Rogan have profusely apologised and wiped near a hundred of Rogan’s shows from the archives – but not before about 20% of the company’s value was wiped off the market.

It’s the polar opposite of how radio broadcasters are governed in Australia where the ACMA holds the station liable for the actions of its presenters.

Apart from being a free space for casual trolling, socials represent a safe haven for organised crime and worse still, radicalisation of youth as detailed in a speech last week by the country’s spy boss, ASIO director-general Mike Burgess:

“The number of minors being radicalised is getting higher and the age of the minors being radicalised is getting lower.

“Most of the radicalisation occurs online… Children as young as 13 are now embracing extremism, and this is happening with religiously motivated violent extremism and ideologically motivated violent extremism. And unlike past experience, many of these young people do not come from families where a parent or sibling already holds extreme views.

“As the director-general of security, this trend is deeply concerning. As a parent, it is deeply distressing. As a nation, we need to reflect on why some teenagers are hanging Nazi flags and portraits of the Christchurch killer on their bedroom walls, and why others are sharing beheading videos.

“Just as importantly, we must reflect on what we can do about it,” said Mr Burgess.

The problem, of course, is that given the billions they make from providing a free and anonymous platform to all sorts of ne’er-do-wells and bad actors, there’s no great incentive for change, despite the well-crafted rhetoric emanating from their PR departments.

While our government’s proposed legislation seems clunky, to say the least, Germany has taken a more direct approach by introducing fines of up to 50 million Euros (79.5 mil $AUS).  If that doesn’t grab their attention, perhaps the case against the Meta owned Facebook brought by mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest will.

As most people are aware, Dr Forrest along with other celebrities including David Koch, Waleed Ali, Deborah Knight and Eddie McGuire have become the unwitting public faces for a crypto currency scam that originated on Facebook and has now spread to the furthest reaches of the internet.

Despite Dr Forrest personally contacting Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, he and the others, have been unable to stop their images being used and are constantly blamed by irate “investors” for their losses. 

Now Dr Forrest has launched a criminal case against Facebook, alleging it breached anti-money laundering laws by failing to stop criminals using fake advertisements featuring celebrities such as himself to scam Australians.

Facebook for its part is reported as saying “We take a multifaceted approach to stop these ads, we work not just to detect and reject the ads themselves but also block advertisers from our services and, in some cases, take court action to enforce our policies,” the spokesman said. “We’re committed to keeping these people off our platform.”

Sounds good, except for the fact it’s not working.

Imagine if Boeing could have simply washed its hands of two of its 737 MAX aircraft falling out of the sky in the space of less than two years. “It’s not our responsibility. We only sell them. We don’t fly them. It’s up to the airline to maintain them. Besides it’s only two crashes out of millions of hours of trouble-free flying. In any case, it would be way too expensive for us to take them all out of service while we find a way to fix the problem… if it can be fixed at all.”

At its best social media is a fantastic invention that allows near global interaction between family, friends and like-minded people on every topic under the sun. But like aircraft it’s great when it’s fit for purpose – a tragedy when it’s not. And if social media outlets can’t fix their product to ensure that users don’t get hurt, they should be grounded till they can.

It will take a global effort to bring social media out of the ‘wild west” and onto a level playing field provided by impartial referees that adhere to an agreed set of rules.

Peter Saxon

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