In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, several social media platforms and apps have happily decided to promote only World Health Organization-approved narratives and news across the world. While social media platforms are doing so to evade “misinformation” on their platform, the director of BBC World Service Group, Jamie Angus, says that “credible” news sources (such as the BBC) should also be given extra visibility on social media.
“WhatsApp has allowed the WHO to publish trusted information directly into the WhatsApp environment. WhatsApp has declined to do that for the BBC and I think that’s a mistake,” said Angus.
“The global Covid pandemic is a once-in-a-generation challenge – the house is on fire and you want to open the fire hose to the maximum capacity in those circumstances, to saturate the environment out there with trusted and accurate news,” Angus said.
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Angus says that social media platforms are shying away from allowing top news houses with a reputation for publishing authentic information from being boosted because allowing one outlet will invariably put pressure to allow others on their platforms.
“Sometimes you get the argument that ‘we can’t do this for the BBC because then we’d have to do it for Russia Today or CGTN’ – but the global challenge we are facing means that the moment is bigger than that, and it’s time for those tech platforms to pick what side they’re on and take on the responsibilities of a publisher,” said Angus.
Furthermore, Angus said that social media platforms such as Facebook were doing their bit to prevent misinformation and that end-to-end encrypted chatting apps should also be monitored equally for misinformation.
“On a web page it’s easy to search and uncover disinformation. One of the really difficult things about chat apps – and particularly WhatsApp – is that the material is end-to-end encrypted. It can’t be searched and it is often very hard for us to find that something has been circulated until literally millions of people have seen it. That’s something I’m very worried about.”
End-to-end encrypted chat apps such as Signal help users communicate securely. The BBC is expressing worry that private communications can’t be searched and appears to hint of a desire for a future where privacy is removed and security is reduced in order to allow the monitoring of what people are talking about in private conversations.
Discussing the relevance of BBC World Service Group in the midst of the global crisis, Angus said: “The World Service is one of the few independent and trusted global voices left. It has become absolutely clear how necessary that role is, because we are seeing an explosion of poor quality and ultimately downright dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus. That is a global phenomenon that requires a global solution.”