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David Cameron’s fake news about fake news

November 13, 2019 - 7:20am

I’m surprised this hasn’t got more attention, but there’s an interview with David Cameron this week on sifted — which bills itself as the “new media site for Europe’s innovators and entrepreneurs.”

They asked the former Prime minister about the regulation of social media: ” …you describe how the Leveson inquiry in 2012 led to the establishment of a new, robust regulatory body for the UK’s press and media, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). You comment how surprised you were at the lack of attention given to online and social media. Do you think that it’s time for a full review of these new forms of media?”

Cameron didn’t hold back:

“Yes, it’s shocking really: just a few paragraphs devoted to what has become one of the biggest challenges of our age. Leveson implied that people take online content with a pinch of salt. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only do people listen to fake news, they build whole echo chambers out of it and never leave.”
- David Cameron

Interesting stuff — except that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. For a succinct takedown, I’d recommend a Twitter thread by Rasmus Kleis Neilsen, a professor of political communication at Oxford:

The good professor isn’t claiming that there’s nothing to worry about — only that we shouldn’t do media policy on “such shaky and shifty foundations.”

It’s an irony that there’s so much fake news about fake news. Unfortunately the whole concept is simply too convenient for failing politicians and the struggling mainstream media not to seize upon. Rather than facing up to one’s own mistakes and weaknesses, its easier to imagine that only reason why the people have rejected you is because they’ve been bamboozled by the sinister force of technological wizardry — not to mention that age-old excuse ‘foreign interference’.

Neilsen is right, concerns over social media aren’t without foundation. But as our political and cultural elites contemplate their misfortunes they should be clear as to where the bulk of the blame lies — themselves.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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