Michael Gove warns of social media dangers after fake news on animal sentience goes viral

By Robert Mooney

ENVIRONMENT Secretary Michael Gove has blamed social media for the row about legal protection for animals.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday morning, Mr Gove said social media had distorted the issue and that members of the public who had posted the fake news should set the record straight.

Conservative MPs voted down an amendment to Brexit legislation which would have incorporated in the Withdrawal Bill a clause of EU law about animal sentience on to the UK statute book.

However, this was misreported with some news outlets linking the issue directly to Brexit, and claiming Tory MPs had actively voted that animals could not feel “pain or emotion”.

This led to a social media frenzy last week and it became the most viral UK political news article of 2017.

The incident brings to the fore the issue of fake news and how social media can influence political decisions and press coverage of issues, as well as bringing up the debate as to how much the public can trust mainstream news coverage.

Former Sky News boss and the associate head of the school of arts and communication at Leeds Trinity University, Dave Betts said: “I don’t think social media itself distorts the facts.

“It’s the people putting stuff onto social media and I think we all have to understand when we’re using social media that just because it’s out there, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.

“It’s the equivalent of sitting in a pub and believing what someone tells you. They might know what they are talking about. They might have no idea. They might be fantasists. They might be making it up.

“People need to appreciate that about social media as well. They need to think where has it come from and is this a reliable source.”

Senior lecturer in digital and social media at Leeds Trinity University, Liz Cable, said problems arise when people assume what they see on social media is accurate: “I don’t think it’s a future thing to be worried about. I think it’s happening now and I think a lot of us are losing all faith.

“There’s already been a lot of research done that shows something like three quarters of people will actually pass something on without actually reading it first.

“A lot of people pass things on without reading it because it’s got a good headline, because they think they’re going to be the first person to do it, and even when they have read it, they believe it.

“There’s very few places you can go where you know this is telling the truth. You’ve got the BBC, you got Snopes.com which is deliberately set up to stop internet rumours. It’s a really serious business.”

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