Fixing the broken web

A new #FuturePRoof guide highlights the ills of the web. It’s the start of an important conversation about how communicators tackle disinformation and fix the broken web.

The great hope of the world wide web in 1989 was that it would democratise the publication and sharing of information. It enabled anyone with access to the internet to publish and distribute content at no cost.

The internet provided a means for people to connect and communicate with each other, irrespective of location. It disintermediated all previous forms of media enabling anyone to become a publisher.

Rise of internet driven web media

As traditional media has fragmented, individuals and organisations have created their own media on almost every form of social network. The web and the internet have enabled communities to form around an organisation, topic or issue.

The web was the most significant shift in publishing since the invention of the printing press in the 15th Century. The nineties and noughties were a period of huge shifts in media that continue to play out. It was also a time of incredible innovation.

This period corresponded with the rise of mobile networks and devices. You’re likely to be reading this on a mobile phone or you’ll have one within reach. These devices have provided the means for consumers to connect to the internet wherever and whenever.

The web has overhauled organisational communication and marketing. It has created many new forms of media for organisations to engage with their publics using paid, earned, social and owned media.

Broken web: algorithms, bias, ads and verification

But it’s not all good news. Thirty years after the invention of the web we’re only beginning to realise that it hasn’t brought about the communication utopia that was originally envisaged.

The internet has fragmented into a series of closed networks operated by platforms including Facebook, Google and Twitter. Each user has a different algorithm-driven experience based on the data that these platforms gather about us.

Public conversation on these personal versions of the internet is corrupted by the loudest voices with the biggest budgets. Algorithms reward bullies, extremists and trolls. They can be circumvented by payment.

Finally, there’s an issue of authenticity. Everyone is a dog on the internet. Fake news has become a catch-all term to describe everything from bullshit to blatant manipulation. Legitimate news sources vie for attention in algorithm newsfeeds along with disinformation and propaganda.

It’s a race to the bottom. Regulation is urgently required. Governments and law makers are slowly awakening to the issue but aren’t moving quickly enough.

In February, a Parliamentary Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee made urgent recommendations but our law-making process has been clogged up by issues relating to Brexit for the last three years.

Tackling fake news and disinformation

Professional communications need to keep their wits about them. A new guide to disinformation and fake news published by the #FuturePRoof community is a good start point. Please follow this link to access the report.

“As practitioners, we have a duty of care to ensure that content we share is authentic, true and substantiated, particularly where we can reach and influence large groups of people,” said Sarah Waddington, #FuturePRoof founder and editor.

The short guide to ethical communications is designed to help practitioners follow best practice, build resilience within organisations and start to understand the scale of the problem.

The report cites Alex Aiken, Executive Director of the Government Communications Service and Damian Collins MP, Chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee.

It includes a breakdown of terminology, signposting to helpful resources and antivax and astroturfing case studies to illustrate the threat posed by disinformation.

Photo by Leon Seibert on Unsplash

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Professional advisor for agencies and communication teams, Wadds Inc. Author: #brandvandals, Exploring PR and Management Communication. #PRstack, Share This, and others. Visiting Professor, Newcastle University.

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