Lord Black spoke about the dangers of children being bullied online and the value of verified, regulated news and that newspapers drive 1 billion social media interactions during a wide-ranging debate in the House of Lords about 'digital understanding'. He said:
My Lords, I join the deserved chorus of congratulation for the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on securing this debate. I want briefly to address two issues: first the impact on young people, who in many ways personify the dilemma of digital understanding. On the one hand, digital opens up for them a world of opportunity. On the other hand, the fast-moving world of social media presents great danger in terms of isolation, bullying—particularly homophobic bullying—and depression. Schools have a very fine balancing act. I am a governor of Brentwood School in Essex—I declare an interest accordingly—which is one of those showing the way in this area. It harnesses the power of digital to enhance and enrich learning by ensuring that every child in the school has their own iPad. At the same time it strives to keep children safe by keeping control of the technology by banning mobile phone use during the school day, encouraging pupils to use technology in a family space and advocating social time without the distraction of any devices. I am sure that that will be music to the ears of the noble Lord, Lord Sugar. That seems to me to be a good way of squaring the circle of empowerment and safety. It is a challenge all schools must face up to.
In my own world of the media—I declare an interest as executive director of the Telegraph Media Group—the digital revolution has allowed us to reach out to huge new audiences. Today 39 million people in the UK digitally access news on the industry’s websites, and many hundreds of millions worldwide. Last year, content on those websites drove 1 billion social media interactions. That is a phenomenal success story, but it has come at a price. As all noble Lords know, the digital revolution has destroyed the business model which sustains the news publishing industry as advertising revenue has shifted online. For many in the business it is a race against time to adapt and to find new revenues. I am confident it is a challenge that can be met, provided the industry is free to adapt unburdened by excessive and punitive legislation including, of course, the odious Section 40.
One area of great concern is fake news, which is central to this area. Fake news has been with us ever since the printing press was invented, and always will be. What has changed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, said, is the impact of social media, where algorithms connect users to news by second guessing what the user might like rather than assessing its quality. As it thrives, it attracts advertising from reputable brands and Government. Fake news causes real social harm by reinforcing so-called “filter bubbles” that warp people’s understanding of the world and insulating them from opposing views.
There is no easy answer to that, but one thing we need to do is ensure the sustainability of the real, verified, regulated news which appears in UK news brands. Like many others, I warmly welcome the Government’s commitment to establishing a digital charter which will go a long way towards dealing with some of these issues. I also believe that while fake news is an important issue in its own right, it is actually part of a much wider problem of the sustainability of the news industry, and the structural changes in the advertising market from the establishment of a duopoly of news aggregators. That is an issue to which we shall have to return.
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