Ministers attack social media making money from fake news
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    Ministers attack social media making money from fake news

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    Two federal government ministers have attacked social media that persist in allowing misinformation to be published via their channels, and in some case actually profit from it, De Tijd reports.

    The comments come from home affairs minister Pieter De Crem (CD&V), whose responsibilities include the police; and from minister for telecommunications Philippe De Backer (Open VLD).

    In times of a coronavirus epidemic and enforced confinement, certain interests both commercial and political see an opportunity to profit by publishing misinformation, false advertisements and conspiracy theories often bordering on hate speech.

    In recent weeks warnings have come from civilian and military intelligence and the anti-terrorism office OCAD about misinformation online, specifically planted by extreme right and extreme left, jihadists, Russia and other foreign interests.

    The federal police force has a section dedicated to seeking out fake news online and attempt to have it removed.

    In reply to a question from senator Stephanie D’Hose (Open VLD), minister De Crem explained the problem.

    “The section has been instructed to focus on the detection of fake news published on the internet related to the coronavirus. That content is automatically reported to the platforms by submitting a removal request,” he said.

    Up to March 30 this year, the section had discovered and reported 231 cases of fake news, in addition to 16 websites that publish such content.

    “But the section has no power of enforcement against the social networking platforms and can only request removal. The platforms are not obliged to comply.”

    The same question went to minister De Backer.

    “The major online platforms continue to generate revenue with disinformation and harmful content about the pandemic,” he replied.

    “Examples include hosting online advertisements on pages that misrepresent migrants as the cause of the virus, promoting false treatments, or spreading conspiracy theories about the virus.”

    He did note, however, that the same platforms have been instrumental in raising public awareness of the World Health Organisation, as well as the Belgian government website on the coronavirus.

    “It is Kafkaesque that as a government we use resources and people to detect fake news about the coronavirus, if we then have no idea whether anyone who offers his platform to distribute fake news is actually doing anything about it,” Senator D’Hose commented.

    “Social media also have their share of the responsibility. Certain clickbait models encourage the dissemination and production of fake news. We also need to focus more on developing signalling or warning mechanisms for readers.”

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times