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The BBC are teaming up with Facebook to debunk ‘fake news’ – things are going to get messy

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President-Elect Donald Trump’s now-infamous press conference again stoked the fire over fake news. Refusing to grant questions to reporters from outlets he regards as peddling it, Trump lambasted Buzzfeed and CNN in particular. 

He wasn’t alone in lambasting Buzzfeed for running the as-yet-unverified story involving sexual depravity, Russian spies and Trump’s alleged vulnerability to blackmail. Other media outlets have also voiced severe criticism of Buzzfeed’s decision, not unfairly. But Trump is far from alone in taking an aggressive line on the issue. 

The BBC have unveiled their new ‘Permanent Reality Check’ team whose stated purpose is to fact-check and thus debunk falsehoods masquerading as news. Announced yesterday, this was probably on the BBC’s agenda for some time. Whether the latest installment of ‘Donald Trump versus The World’ coincided with a planned announcement or was just convenient timing is another question entirely. 

Considering the BBC’s ongoing controversy regarding bias and media manipulation (allegedly involving BBC News Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg), this has raised a few eyebrows. There have been numerous complaints to the BBC regarding its ongoing portrayal of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Its flagship current affairs programmes ‘Newsnight’ and ‘Question Time’ have been accused repeatedly via social media of packing panels and guestlists with Corbyn’s opponents instead of booking his allies in even numbers.  

Newsnight journalist Kirsty Wark was recently attacked online for her aggressive treatment of Shadow Attorney-General (and Corbyn ally) Baroness Shami Chakrabarti. It’s not the first time she’s drawn fire on similar grounds.

Newsnight’s using mocked-up images of Corbyn, images almost designed to give a negative impression of him, has also attracted hostility. All told, the relationship between the BBC and the Left has probably never been worse. 

Other online outlets have also banged their drum against fake news. Facebook recently announced its intention to fact-check news outlets appearing on its pages and flag up anything that, in the fact-checkers’ opinion, looks like fake news. The Guardian has run a number of stories warning of fake news and its (according to them) increasingly pernicious effect on press credibility generally. Whether the BBC and Facebook will provide effective, reliable and (equally important) accountable fact-checking is another matter. 

If certain champions of crushing fake news are anything to go by, this is highly questionable. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson recently announced that Labour would be holding an inquiry into fake news and how best to squelch the problem. The same Tom Watson who has already singled out online outlets like The Canary as representing the worst of a bad bunch. That the Canary is often pro-Corbyn is doubtless entirely coincidental. The inquiry is to be headed by Watson ally (and Corbyn enemy) Michael Dugher.  

This too arouses deep suspicion. Dugher has written a number of times for the Daily Mail and The Sun openly attacking Corbyn’s leadership especially after Dugher’s unceremonious departure from the Shadow Cabinet. While loudly trumpeting his loathing of Corbyn in those papers, Dugher was somewhat quieter when both used doctored photographs to falsely accuse Corbyn of dancing his way to a Remembrance event late last year. Corbyn’s mythical dance-off has been comprehensively proven false, but Dugher and Watson have had comparatively little to say on the subject. Come to think of it, supposedly-reliable scourges of supposed fake news sites aren’t always what they seem, either. 

Making a mercifully-brief return to Trump’s stance on fake news, it’s also worth noting his appointment of Steve Bannon to his inner circle. The same Steve Bannon previously linked to Breitbart News. Rather an odd choice, all things considered. Also, it wasn’t just Buzzfeed and CNN who Trump slated for (in his opinion) purveying falsehoods as truth. When BBC correspondent Ian Pannell identified himself, asking if Trump would stand down should the allegations be substantiated, Trump responded

“BBC News, that’s another beauty.” 

Nice to see Trump and Corbyn might agree on something.

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