“This virus came engineered in a Chinese lab.” Sound familiar? This comment – hawking an unproven and debunked conspiracy theory about COVID-19 – is one of hundreds we came across in our analysis of 53 examples of comment sections content dating from January to April of 2020.
Hacked Off has today released a report titled “Racism and Fake News in the Wild West of newspaper comment sections.” It sets out the findings of a review of newspaper comment sections on the websites of The Sun, The Mirror, The Daily Telegraph and MailOnline (The Daily Mail). They include “fake news”, conspiracy theories and racist language. Comments were drawn from coverage of news stories about the coronavirus.
Comment sections appear on several popular newspaper websites. They enable readers to engage with a story, pass on comment on it, and discuss it with other readers. As with any social media platform, these spaces can be abused and need moderation.
As these comments have been published and broadcast to millions of people by newspaper websites, hate crimes against Chinese people have soared. On 13th May, Government Ministers reported that hate crimes committed against people from South & East Asia had risen by 21%.
But while newspapers have been critical of the apparent failure of Facebook, Twitter and other companies to do enough to moderate their platforms, this report exposes their hypocrisy of allowing harmful content to appear on “below the line” social media platforms of their own newspaper websites.
This review shows why – if the Government is serious about tackling the problem – it must include newspapers and their comment sections in any regulatory framework., which is why we’re asking people to call on the Parliament to level the playing field. After all, harm is harm and nobody’s tweets should be more regulated than the Daily Mail.
You can read the full report here, then contact your MP and make your voice heard: enough is enough. It’s time for independent regulations of online and offline newspapers.