Children should be taught how to spot fake news in a bid to stop false propaganda influencing elections, peers recommend today.
Youngsters could learn in schools how to tell the difference between legitimate information and lies spread by unscrupulous agents, a House of Lords Committee says.
The panel on Political Polling and Digital Media launched a report into the industry after a series of polling flops failed to predict the Tories 2015’ general election majority, the 2016 Brexit referendum Leave vote and last year’s hung Parliament following the snap general election in June.
Its 108-page study warns evidence on the “use of social media to influence political debate adversely was deeply concerning”.
Witnesses highlighted “that governments, regulators and the platforms themselves are on the back foot … and have been too slow to address the spread of misinformation and the manipulation of political disinformation on social media platforms”.
The peers call for a “serious and concerted investigation”.
They add: “One way to combat the spread of misinformation and to limit its potential impact on democratic debate is to ensure that people have the critical literacy skills to match digital skills to enable them to assess and analyse the information they read online.
“The Department for Education must ensure that such skills are taught to people of all ages, including children and young people at school and colleges, as well as adults in further education.”
Committee chairman Lord Lipsey said: “It was clear to us that some activity on digital media poses a significant risk to politics and democracy in the UK.
“More needs to be done to better understand that threat and educate the population to spot ‘fake news’ and baseless propaganda online.
The committee also demands that online political adverts carry notes saying who has printed them so readers know who is behind messages.
Printed leaflets must, by law, say who has paid for and published them, and peers want digital ads to carry the same health warnings.
“This will be crucial in helping to ensure that public confidence is maintained in the electoral system,” says the report.
But peers admit it will “do little to address the challenges posed by international actors who try to operate below the radar”.
The report also calls for polls to come with warnings over how they were funded.
But the committee rejected calls to ban surveys in the run-up to elections.
Lord Lipsey said: “One concrete step that the Government can take now is to require all online campaign communications to carry an imprint to say who published it, as is the case for the printed material, and give the Electoral Commission the power to police and enforce that rule.”
He added: “The polling industry needs to get its house in order, otherwise the case for banning polling in the run-up to elections – one we for now reject – will become stronger.
“We heard compelling evidence that polls influence the narrative around elections and thus go to the root of our democratic debate.
“This makes it vital they are conducted properly and held to the highest standards of accuracy.”