Disinformation risks for the UK media market

Disinformation risks for the UK media market

The UK has a historic and vibrant media ecosystem, but trust in the press, especially online news, is low. Only 22 percent of people in the UK trust news accessed via a search engine, and that number drops to 10 percent for news that comes from social media. Despite this lack of trust, more than 70 percent say they get their news online. This chasm between access to news and trust in it is ripe for exploitation.

This can happen when malicious sites pose as genuine news outlets in order to attract online readers and their clicks – as well as the ad money that follows. But disinformation problems can also occur when mainstream sites inadvertently carry stories laced with disinformation due to not having the right balance of operational and editorial checks-and-balances.

The mission of the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) is to disrupt the disinformation ecosystem. To this end, we’ve developed a robust methodology to rate the risk that a news domain may carry disinformation – whether now or in the future. These risks ratings can be used by advertisers to decide where to place their ad monies based on their own brand safety and risk mitigation strategies.

We used the risk rating methodology to conduct a pilot study of 30 news domains in the UK (see Figure 1). These domains come from across the media spectrum and include some of the top-traffic news sites in the country as well-known international and niche-sites (see Figure 1).

Our findings for the UK media market show that news domains in our sample contain a wide range of risk levels, with a mix of reliable sites, risky sites, and many in between.

Figure 2: Distribution of Risk Ratings – by Site (anonymised)

With that said, even the highest scoring domains confront specific risk and have room for improvement.

Applying the GDI risk rating methodology, each domain is assigned a score from 0 to 100 – from “maximum” (0) to “minimum” (100) risk. (The full GDI methodology is outlined here).

In our UK report, we show that many domains lack journalist-agreed operational policies that act as safeguards against disinformation. These policies include public disclosures of a news site’s sources of revenue and a clear process for reporting errors to the public. For example, in doing the assessment, we found that half of the UK sites in our sample lacked a public statement of their editorial independence (a policy which is part of the Journalism Trust Initiative standards).

While the journalistic standards apply to all types of journalists and media sites, our findings for the UK showed that independent blogs and newer digital-native media sites tend to score lower on these indicators, suggesting that they may be lagging behind traditional news outlets in their checks-and-balances.

We also found that many of the sites we sampled do not have policies in place to address new technologies that pose disinformation risks. For example, none of the domains had policies regarding the publication of algorithmically-generated content at the time of the study.

In addition, we found that expert perceptions of brand trust in our sample of news sites are consistently low. Our independent media experts were asked a set of questions related to their perceptions of each news site’s accuracy, labeling of news and opinion articles, use of clickbait headlines, and tendency to issue corrections.

Expert perceptions of news sites provide good insights into their perceived practices and behaviours which form the basis of one’s trust in a news site over time. Recent research suggests that 37 percent of people in the UK distrust the media.  These low trust levels are reflected in findings that 70 percent of those surveyed in the UK are concerned by what news is real and “fake” online.

The expert review of sites – included as part of our rating assessment – correlates well with the scores provided by country reviewers  for other disinformation indicators assessed in this study, such as whether a story’s title reflects the article. While experts tend to have a more critical view of sites over time, they do a good job of identifying where potential risks lie for a news site and the overall media market.

Our UK report provides a deeper look into these findings: where the market is excelling and where it experiences the most risk. These risks are important for advertisers to understand and assess when buying online adverts.

In the coming year, we’ll update our methodology and expand the scope of the index to even more countries around the world. We welcome constructive feedback from all quarters on the GDI approach and to work with us to disrupt disinformation.

(You can access the report here).

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