The media bears an obligation to thoughtfully select the individuals they spotlight and offer a platform to. Recently, numerous news platforms have emerged in the UK, each boasting fresher, more insightful contributors who’ve been absent from coverage of conventional politics thus far.
These new channels have flooded Twitter with eye-catching graphics, polished social media content, and impassioned snippets from hosts recruited, we are told, from the heart of UK politics. Yet, has this truly elevated the standard and quality of political journalism?
Over the past decade, there’s been a surge in populist messaging that often portrays one group as a silenced majority, oppressed by a privileged minority imposing their ideological beliefs. Memorable slogans like “Take Back Control,” “Get Brexit Done,” “Leave Means Leave,” and “No deal is better than a bad deal” have become commonplace. This rise in populist rhetoric has coincided with a significant shift to the right, leading to the uncritical platforming of misinformed, extreme, and potentially dangerous contributors who make a career out of spreading misinformation and hatred.
By providing a platform, the media amplifies these voices, potentially reaching hundreds of thousands of people. While this exposure can be harnessed for good, it also carries the potential to inflict considerable harm. When media outlets give a voice to individuals who incite hate speech or disseminate misinformation, they risk exacerbating and further entrenching societal divisions and conflict, and as evidenced early in the COVID19 pandemic may even deter people from seeking essential medical services or drive them to pursue unproven, unnecessary or hazardous treatments.
As more media outlets gravitate towards commentary from social media pundits, the promotion of unqualified or unreliable individuals can deceive and mislead the public. Erroneous claims and false statements may enter the public discourse without proper scrutiny, again posing a dangerous and altogether corrosive threat.
The ubiquity of outlandish and unsubstantiated claims made by contributors, often amplified online without context, leaves the public with part of a story and no real meaningful means of holding these individuals accountable. Media consumption has become increasingly compartmentalised, with individuals gravitating towards outlets that align more with their values and political leanings. This in turn can reinforce inherent biases and hinder our collective understanding of complex issues.
In light of these risks, the media must exercise extreme caution in determining whom to platform, prioritising veracity and integrity over attention-grabbing metrics. Although rage-driven interactions on social media are not a new concept, reactionary factions may use their popularity as evidence of broad support, undermining those who oppose their message.
Pursuing anger and shock as a means to gain traction is self-serving, dishonest, and poor journalism. It not only skews narratives and misrepresents support, but also amplifies those making increasingly outlandish claims, pressuring their subjects to refute or debate baseless accusations or face ridicule.
As we live in an increasingly connected world, our responsibility for the words we use and the actions they inspire grows. Deciding whom to platform should involve a thorough evaluation of the accuracy of the claims or information, the contributor’s reliability and their expertise or authority on the matter. Simply offering an opposing view is often insufficient, as research from the 2016 US Presidential elections revealed that misinformation was retweeted 70% more frequently than accurate tweets.
While social media and sites like YouTube provide us with a near instant means of sharing our thoughts and experiences, we do each have a responsibility for the words we use and, at least morally, the actions they inspire. With that in mind, it is important that the media practice responsible journalism, prioritising integrity and truth above all else and be cautious in deciding whom they choose to platform. None of us enjoy the right to a captive or uncritical audience.
By Rob McDowall