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Take fake news seriously, even if its impact has been limited so far

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) and the Dutch Media Authority (CvdM) recognize the risks of disseminating fake news on a large scale through online platforms. Even though the impact of fake news on Dutch consumers is currently limited, ACM and CvdM warn that it cannot be taken for granted that this will not change in the future. So far, Dutch news media are doing well, and are resilient enough to weather a few blows. Still, investments are needed today in order to ensure that our news remains diverse, independent, and accessible. ACM and CvdM have identified a number of possible actions so that fake news will not gain traction in the future either.

This was revealed by a joint study carried out by ACM and CvdM into digitalization and fake news.  In their findings, they present facts and analyses about gathering news through online platforms and the dissemination of fake news.

The risks of fake news

The impact of fake news is currently limited because the news landscape in the Netherlands is diverse and of a high standard, and consumers are well able to take advantage of the selection on offer. But there are risks:

  • Displacement of high quality news: if consumers were to consume news from a limited number of platforms only, it could lead to quality news becoming more difficult to finance, and consequently be displaced by fake news. Fake news will then get more opportunities to spread.
  • The news landscape becomes poorer: the continued growth of social platforms could lead to traditional news providers increasingly offering "sensational news stories". As a result, the quality of news will become poorer, thereby putting pressure on an important function of the media, which is promoting democracy.
  • Shrinking of the media sector: over the past few years, the number of mergers and acquisitions in the media sector has risen substantially. This trend is expected to continue, in part because of the ever growing competitive pressure exerted by other online services. Companies cannot become so dominant that they are able to impede competition. This applies to all companies in the Netherlands, including media companies. ACM must be notified of any large merger. ACM assesses all such mergers against the Dutch Competition Act. This is important for maintaining media diversity as competition between news providers helps inoculate against fake news.

Possible actions

ACM and CvdM have identified a number of possible actions for various stakeholders and market participants in order to make sure that fake news will not gain much traction in the Netherlands in the future either:

  • Stimulating innovation and new business models that are needed in a media landscape (in the Netherlands and abroad) that is changing dramatically. News providers themselves have the primary responsibility of continuing to invest in order to maintain the current high level of news quality.
  • Taking measures as online platforms in order to filter out fake news, making it easier to find good information, and being transparent about the way these platforms present news.
  • Investing in the "digital literacy" of consumers. If consumers make conscious choices and get their information from multiple sources, it will reduce the impact of fake news. ACM and CvdM will, in collaboration with others, study what initiatives can be developed in order to increase consumers' digital literacy.

The reasons for this study

The trends in the media sector and the increasing number of possibilities to disseminate fake news have prompted this joint study. Digitalization offers many opportunities for new and existing media, but it also presents threats, such as fake news. Fake news that is disseminated fast and on a large-scale can cause a lot of harm, and can restrict citizens in making well-informed choices.

Combining the expertise of ACM and CvdM

ACM and CvdM have combined their expertise for this study. ACM makes sure that consumers are informed well, and it takes action against unfair competition. The Dutch Media Authority makes sure that Dutch media continue to be diverse, accessible, and independent.