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Survey Claims UK People Would Support Fake News Alerts from ISPs

Monday, July 29th, 2019 (12:01 am) - Score 846

A new YouGov survey of 1,017 UK adults, which was commissioned by NewsGuard and conducted between 27th June to 2nd July 2019, has found that 51% of respondents would trust their broadband ISP or mobile network operator more if they pro-actively alerted users as to the quality of a news website being accessed.

Before we get started it’s important to state that NewsGuard has a vested interest in the results of YouGov’s survey. The organisation uses “experienced … journalism to fight false news, misinformation, and disinformation,” not least by analysing and ranking websites in order to identify how trustworthy they are.

NOTE: NewsGuard says its team of journalists rate and create “Nutrition Labels” for news and information websites on the basis of nine basic, apolitical criteria of journalistic practice.

At present NewsGuard works via optional extensions (plugins) on your web browser but they’ve also been trying to get broadband ISPs to integrate their ranking and labels system into their networks (here), which could in theory result in internet users being automatically notified (e.g. warning pages) – as an optional feature – about the trustworthiness of a news site they’re trying to load.

In keeping with that the organisation has been keen to show that there is interest among consumers in such a feature and hence the new survey.


However, this sort of approach is not without its own issues of accuracy and political sensitivity, as shown when users of Microsoft Edge were recently warned not to trust the Daily Mail website (Guardian). The warning was later removed and no doubt some would agree with that particular alert, although equally it’s important to be careful about doing anything that might hinder access to free speech or different opinions and views.

Similarly it’s unclear how this sort of system will work when they squeeze down to focus upon smaller sites and blogs, which may lack the same large budgets and army of lawyers as mainstream newspapers. A risk may thus exist from the threat of big media trampling over new online alternatives that cannot so easily defend themselves.

The timing of all this also has relevance to the Government’s new ‘Online Harms White Paper‘, which among other things proposed to establish a regulator for internet content that could be tasked with forcing websites to remove bad content (e.g. hate speech, fake news) and even blocking or imposing fines upon those that fail to comply.

EdVaizey MP, Advisor to NewsGuard, said:

“This survey shows there is real concern in the UK with the plague of misinformation online, including delivered through the Silicon Valley social media and search companies. The good news is that it is within the control of UK broadband and mobile phone providers to help solve this problem for the families who use their services to access the internet.

With two thirds of people in the UK saying they would find information about the reliability of news websites valuable and most saying they would trust their internet or mobile phone provider more just for providing this kind of information, there is a big opportunity for the providers to do more to protect UK families from misinformation and hoaxes online.

As the “Online Harms White Paper” said, companies that provide information from services such as NewsGuard would reduce harms and show a duty of care online.”

Steven Brill, NewsGuard Co-CEO, told ISPreview.co.uk:

“UK citizens are rightly concerned about the amount of misinformation online targeting their families, which includes false reporting about health issues such as vaccines. NewsGuard is a practical, easy to use product that censors or blocks nothing while providing information about the reliability of any website purporting to publish news.”

The NewsGuard browser extension is currently free to consumers, but in the very near future they plan to begin charging for access to those who are not having it provided to them from their ISP or mobile provider (access will remain free for libraries and schools). Judging by the above survey, getting people to pay for this sort of feature could prove challenging but there may be enough to make it viable.

Meanwhile broadband ISPs have generally and perhaps correctly tended to resist the notion of becoming gatekeepers for online content, except where law and legislation demand. As such it seems reasonable to expect that they may not introduce such features voluntarily or without significant political pressure being applied. In that sense much may yet depend upon the outcome of the Online Harms paper.

In any case if internet providers did introduce it then the feature would be optional, which is perhaps for the best since the rising adoption of features like DNS-over-HTTPS (DoH) seems likely to prevent this sort of functionality from working in the first place. In the meantime yours truly still finds it perfectly possible to judge the quality of a site without needing a filter to tell me.

NOTE: Before publishing a rating and Nutrition Label for a website, NewsGuard analysts say they reach out to people responsible for the website to ask about any issues related to the nine criteria. As a result, more than 500 websites have made improvements to their online practices.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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10 Responses
  1. Mike says:

    It’s important that our daily consumption of establishment propaganda isn’t interrupted by inconvenient truths.

    1. Billy says:

      There is no need, the Daily Mail will email you links to all the important news of the day, and of course your mates will share anything you missed on social media.
      If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.

  2. Bob2002 says:

    Glad to see you highlighted NewsGuard’s backtracking on its claims about the Daily Mail, so maybe the question is can NewsGuard be trusted to be accurate? My views on NewsGaurd are that it makes misleading qualitative judgements about news sources and tries to pass these off as a verifiable absolute truth. This was evident when comparing highly partisan papers like the Mail and the Guardian and seeing that the Guardian, despite its highly tabloid nature, got a 100% pass rate.

    I’d suggest the real driver behind NewsGuard is American activist journalism, media outlets will be scared of getting an imperfect NewsGuard ranking because it may scare off advertisers.

    I wonder if NewsGuard has given major outlets like the New York Times a dodgy ranking for running with the utterly discredited Russiagate hoax perpetrated against Donald Trump for the past couple of years? I wonder if they would have dropped rankings for papers that promoted WMDs in Iraq – if they’d been around back then? I really doubt NewsGuard’s commitment to support anything other than the politically correct media establishment.

    If you have a low opinion of journalism now just wait until MPs, NewsGuard, and Silicon Valley decide what articles you should be exposed to …

  3. Optimist says:

    UK mainstream media trustworthy? Endlessly pushing the likelihood of Trump impeachment, but never mention crimes by Democrats during the campaign. Extensive coverage of the Hong Kong protests, but not on the violence against the Gilets Jaunes demonstrators in Paris. On climate change (or “climate emergency”), they always say CO2 is the sole cause but never mention huge amounts of evidence showing that the theory is false.

    To get a balanced view I look at alternative and mainstream US media.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      To be fair Hong Kong will always get more coverage than demonstrations in Paris because of the connection as a former British Colony, until only very recently etc.

    2. Mike says:

      It sounds like you have a case of the fake news, please see your GP or report to your local gulag for reprogramming.

    3. Marty says:

      Excatly nobody mentions the amounts of methane in the atmosphere. Cutting down the world’s biggest air conditioner (rainforest) I prefer the way thing’s are now anybody with a shred of common sense or intelligence can easily pick out fake news.

  4. Fred says:

    Slippery slope I think. I would not trust such a 3rd party. The backtrack on the Daily Mail shows why. However, at the same time I fail to understand how so many people are prepared to dismiss easily verifiable facts, empirical, peer reviewed reports etc. The fact that so many people rely on social media for news is a big concern given how susceptible the platform is for disinformation. The Netflix documentary, ‘The Greatest Hack’ is a good watch by the way.

  5. Byron T says:

    And I thought this was a web page about ISPs not an anti-brexit circle jerk….

    Pretty clear where the owner and his followers fall on the political spectrum , guess I’ll go to think broadband where politics is irrelevant.

  6. James Harkin says:

    Remember in 2013 David Cameron said they would also ban “esoteric material”. The dictionary states quite clearly ‘intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with specialized knowledge or interest.’ Meaning just about anything…

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