Government bans use of phrase ‘fake news’

DCMS response to select committee report reveals move to tackle online manipulation by creating agreed definitions of ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ 



By Richard Johnstone

23 Oct 2018

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The government has taken steps to stop civil servants using the phrase 'fake news' in official documents as it is a “poorly-defined and misleading term”.

In its response to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee’s inquiry on disinformation and 'fake news', government agreed with the conclusion reached by MPs that the term ‘fake news’ is bandied around with no clear idea of what it means, or agreed definition.

The committee recommended that the government should reject the use of the term ‘fake news’ and instead put forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’. “With such a shared definition, and clear guidelines for companies, organisations, and the government to follow, there will be a shared consistency of meaning across the platforms, which can be used as the basis of regulation and enforcement,” the select committee’s report, published in July, said.


The government’s official response, published yesterday, accepted this recommendation.

“We agree that ‘fake news’ is a poorly-defined and misleading term that conflates a variety of false information, from genuine error through to foreign interference in democratic processes,” the response stated.

“Over the past several months during its work on this issue the government has sought to move away from ‘fake news’ and instead has sought to address ‘disinformation’ and wider online manipulation. In our work we have defined disinformation as the deliberate creation and sharing of false and/or manipulated information that is intended to deceive and mislead audiences, either for the purposes of causing harm, or for political, personal or financial gain. ‘Misinformation’ refers to the inadvertent sharing of false information.”

Elsewhere in the government’s response, DCMS revealed that the government was “currently undertaking a range of research projects to better understand the scale, scope and impact of disinformation campaigns in the UK”.

This work has also seen the department work with representatives from the tech sector to discuss potential uses of technology such as text analysis and machine learning to identify disinformation online.

“We will continue to work with industry, civil society, academic and international partners to conduct research and build a robust evidence base that informs any policy response,” the response stated.

The department also stated that government is building its own capabilities dedicated to the assessment and countering of disinformation. “For example, the Defence, Science, and Technology Laboratory is also conducting research projects into disinformation and is working with industry, academia and international partners on the subject matter,” the response stated. “UK expertise in this field is widely recognised, and the government is working closely with international partners to share our skills and experiences.”

The response also highlighted that the government had granted the Information Commissioner’s Office additional pay flexibility to ensure that the organisation is in the best position to develop and retain its staff “to safeguard the rights of individuals in relation to their data”.

“We have also recently introduced new data protection charges, which will provide an increase of over £10 million per annum to the ICO’s income. These increased funds will also enable the ICO to continue to develop the level of expertise available to it and, crucially, to recruit an additional 30% of their current headcount to support ongoing data protection work, including effective regulation of the digital and technology sector,” the DCMS response stated.

“The information commissioner has said of our actions that she is “confident that this will allow me to prepare the ICO for its critical role under the new data protection regime ensuring that the UK has a strong and expert regulator in an area recognised for its importance to the digital economy and society as a whole.”

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