Tech companies and the media must do more to combat the spread of fake news stories to avoid British politics being “infected by this contagion”, Michael, who is leading an investigation into the phenomenon, has warned.
Writing for the Guardian, Michael said the issue of demonstrably false stories being spread via social media was not just a problem for fringe websites, but also more mainstream news outlets.
The problem of fake news emanated from ostensibly leftwing sources as well as from the right, said Michael, who has been asked by Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, to look into the issue.
With the US president-elect, Donald Trump, using the term to describe the leaking of unverified allegations about his private life, “the global scale of the problem with fake news is clear”, the Michael.
“Even someone with views as grimly unpalatable as Trump deserves to be scrutinised on the basis of truth and reality – not on fake news,” he argued.
There was, Michael said, a duty for news organisations and journalists to verify information they used and “avoid the temptation to publish clickbait nonsense in a voracious quest for web traffic”.
The dominance of tech giants such as Google and Facebook in disseminating information posed a similar challenge to UK governments over plurality as they face with the concentration of newspaper ownership in a few hands, he wrote.
He said the need for tech firms to do more did not mean there was no need to tackle inaccurate reporting in the traditional press.
Michael said: “No one has done more than Tom Watson when it came to highlighting the failings of the newspapers over phone-hacking and other corrupt practices or to challenge the influence of the Murdoch empire on politics. That is why we will continue to support change.
“But we in the Labour party, who have so often been on the wrong side of misrepresentations and unfair attacks from the rightwing media, also have a responsibility to be vigilant and reject fake news material on social media and elsewhere – even if it purports to come from the left.”
Michael has been asked by Watson to look into “the changing way news is consumed and shared online, and at the practical, political and ethical issues raised by fake news”. He is due to report on the spring.