Theresa May wants to go to war against clickbait

Leon Neal/Getty Images‘We shall fight on Facebook, we shall fight on Twitter and Reddit, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in viral email chains.’
  • A new official review into British press sustainability is also going to investigate “clickbait.”
  • The UK government wants to know what can be done to “tackle” or “undermine” it.
  • But it’s not clear what the government has in mind – and the review won’t include politically motivated “fake news.”

Theresa May wants to investigate what can be done about “clickbait” as part of a new review into the sustainability of British media announced on Monday.

The government is bringing together a panel of experts to look at the “health” of the British press sector, and how it is being affected by decline in print circulations, as well as the rise of online platforms like Facebook and Google.

Part of that review? Investigating clickbait – tabloid-style online journalism intended to garner as many clicks, or views, as possible – and trying to “tackle” and “undermine” it.

“A key focus of the review will be the local and regional press, who face an uncertain future. The review will also assess the operation of the digital advertising supply chain including funding flows and its role in creating or reducing value for publishers,” the government said in the official announcement.

“It will also look at ‘clickbait’ and low quality news and if there is more that can be done to tackle this issue and undermine any commercial incentives associated with it.”

It’s not immediately obvious how the UK government would seek to “tackle” clickbait, particularly if the news is fundamentally truthful. (Sensationalist news has been a key part of the British press for decades – just look at traditional tabloid papers.) Undermining its “commercial incentives” suggests trying to affect its advertising revenue – whether that would be through legal or other means remains unclear.

The review also won’t examine politically motivated hoaxes and fake news (no matter how clickbait-y some of it is), an issue that has attracted significant public attention in the aftermath of the US presidential election.

“Robust high quality journalism is important for public scrutiny and underpins democratic debate – but as print circulations decline and more readers move online, the press faces an uncertain future,” culture secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement.

“This review will look at the sustainability of the national, regional and local press, how content creators are appropriately rewarded for their online creations, and ensure that the UK has a vibrant, independent and plural free press as one of the cornerstones of our public debate.”

The review will make recommendations for government and industry action, and a final due is report later in 2018.

May also called on Tuesday for new laws to crack down on abuse targeting politicians and public figures, saying that online bullying is a growing “threat to democracy.”

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