Misinformation / DML Prevalence: UK
Misinformation / DML Prevalence: UK
The media and Facebook campaigns that Russia-aligned media carried out during the UK elections is an example of a high profile misinformation event in the UK. Other examples include 1) the prevalence of fake news in domestic political campaigning during the December 12, 2019, UK general elections and the resulting erosion of public faith in political rhetoric and 2) the Cambridge Analytica misinformation campaign scandal that was at play during the June 2016 Brexit Referendum. The misconceptions about Brexit among the leave supporters, lack of sufficient digital literacy among the people, the BBC creating a system to fight fake news with the help of major technology firms, and crypto-currency scams using celebrity endorsements are four other high profile misinformation events/awareness examples in the UK in the past five years. The details of these seven examples are compiled into the attached spreadsheet.
#1 Foreign Intervention in Political Campaigns
- The UK Parliamentary Committee on Culture, Media and Sport published an investigative report citing the UK government, Cardiff University, and the Digital Forensics Lab of the Atlantic Council on how different Russian media channels tried to influence the UK elections through misinformation campaigns. The different media articles and Facebook posts published by the Russian sources mostly contained strong anti-US sentiments in them.
- Theresa May, who was the UK Prime Minister during 2016-2019, stated that Russia was meddling with the UK elections and propagating misinformation. She had also accused Russia of trying to "sow discord in the west" through weaponizing information. The UK Parliamentary Committee on Culture, Media and Sport also reports that the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP, told them the Russians had been trying to spread misinformation and influence UK elections.
- The Russia-aligned media had published 261 articles that had "anti-EU bias." Two major media firms involved in this were RT and Sputnik. These articles had a social reach of "134 million potential impressions." The committee also reports that the cost for a paid social media campaign on equal scale would cost "between £1.4 and 4.14 million."
#2 Fake News in Domestic Political Campaigning
- Quartz, a business media company in the UK, reported that politicians and political parties in the UK, irrespective of parties, resorted to misinformation during the December 12, 2019, general elections to tarnish the image of opponents. For example, conservatives published Facebook advertisements using edited parts of a BBC video, which amounted to misinformation. The misinformation campaign was targeted at the National Health Service (NHS). Using a photo of a child lying on the hospital floor, a campaign was launched, drawing attention to the alleged failure of the NHS. Later, this story was proven to be just fake news.
- Quartz also reports that the misinformation campaigns that the UK political parties use have eroded public faith in politicians. An example would be when the debate audience of Prime Minister Boris Johnson laughed when he reiterated his commitment to truth. As a result of misinformation tactics resorted to by politicians, expert political analysts feel there is a deepening mistrust among the public about the promises that politicians make.
#3 The Cambridge Analytica Misinformation Scandal
- In a 2017 article published in The Guardian, Carole Cadwalladr explains how Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm, was employed by the right wing to harvest data and carry out psychological campaign for influencing the Brexit referendum through misinformation. The misinformation was crafted using "psychology, propaganda, and technology." Cambridge Analytica harvested data from Facebook, and it also purchased personal data illegally towards this end.
- The Brexit referendum was influenced, according to this article, to tilt it towards the interests of the political right in the country in Europe and also the Donald Trump administration in the US. The report also says that the misinformation campaign helped bring Britain closer to America and away from the European Union and calls this entire exercise, "the great British Brexit robbery."
#4 Prevailing Public Misperceptions on Brexit
- A King's College London survey conducted in 2018 shows that only 29% of the British public rightly understands that the European immigrants in Britain pay more in tax than the total amount in benefits and services they avail in the UK. The fact is that the immigrants paid an excess amount of around £4.7bn in taxes than what they received as social benefits and services. Around 42% of leave EU supporters thought that the immigrants are benefiting more than what they are paying to the country.
- 75% of leave supporters incorrectly think that European immigration to the UK has increased crime. 53% of leave supporters incorrectly think that European immigration to the UK has decreased the quality of health care in the UK. 61% of leave supporters also think that European immigration caused higher unemployment among low-skilled workers in the UK.
- The British public also "hugely underestimates" the investments that the UK receives from European countries. Almost 65% of both conservative and labour leave supporters believe that the UK is giving £350m every week to the European Union.
#5 Lack of Digital Literacy
- The UK White Paper on Online Harms published in April 2019 states that there is a lack of digital media literacy in the UK, especially among children and young adults. This report cites the DCMS Select Committee’s report into disinformation and the Cairncross report on A sustainable future for journalism as pointing out the same. The white paper says that the government is planning to develop a digital media literacy strategy.
- The UK government is incorporating digital media literacy into school curriculum. A regulator authority will be formed to implement and monitor digital media literacy in the UK, and the regulator will have the authority to ask different companies to report on their digital literacy activities.
#6 BBC and Technology Firms Join Hands to Fight Fake News
- The BBC, with the support of Google, Twitter, and Facebook, has devised a plan to fight fake news. The plan includes an early warning system, media education, voter information, and shared learning. The early warning system enables organizations to share fake news with each other that could threaten democracy and people's lives.
- The BBC, along with Google, Twitter, and Facebook, will launch a media education campaign and will cooperate on useful public information during elections.
- High profile elections in the UK will see the BBC promoting shared learning in collaboration with the technology firms mentioned above. Earlier, the BBC had organized a Trusted News Summit where all the major technology firms were brought together.
#7 Celebrity influencers misinformation campaign on crypto-currency
- The BBC reports that millions of pounds of money has been lost in crypto-currency scams in which websites use celebrity influencer endorsements to sell their misinformation. It includes not only celebrity endorsements but social media posts as well. The websites present themselves as highly professional and make claims that people can make large sums of money overnight by buying crypto-currency.
- Each victim of these crypto-currency scams lose, on an average, £14,600. Crypto-currency frauds have tripled over the last year.
We scoured UK newspapers and government reports on misinformation campaigns in recent years and identified the 2019 UK Parliamentary Committee report that mentioned the Russian misinformation campaign during UK elections. The team also identified a news article on the 2017 Brexit misinformation campaign allegedly carried out by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm. Another newspaper article identified by the research team presents the details of the prevailing public awareness about the misinformation in electioneering. This erosion of public trust is caused by the wide use of fake news in electioneering by all political parties. The research team also found a white paper published by the UK government that discusses the lack of digital media literacy among the people, and especially among children and young adults. Another high profile report on digital media literacy that we included on this list is the new initiative by the BBC to fight fake news. Celebrity endorsement misinformation campaign to promote crypto-currency scams is the last item included on this list. The BBC reported that people have lost millions to this scam.