The Director of the BBC World Service Group Jamie Angus has called on chat apps to open their platforms to trusted news sources like the BBC, as part of the global effort to counter misinformation during the global Covid-19 crisis.
Speaking to the Media Masters podcast, Angus said: “WhatsApp has allowed the WHO to publish trusted information directly into the WhatsApp environment. WhatsApp has declined to do that for the BBC and I think that’s a mistake.
“The global Covid pandemic is a once-in-a-generation challenge – the house is on fire and you want to open the fire hose to the maximum capacity in those circumstances, to saturate the environment out there with trusted and accurate news.”
Angus says the BBC will continue to work with tech platforms like WhatsApp to encourage them to allow trusted news providers direct access into those platforms. “I think that is something that needs to change. All tech platforms have worked hard to avoid picking between different providers and making value judgments around who is trusted and who is not.
“Sometimes you get the argument that ‘we can’t do this for the BBC because then we’d have to do it for Russia Today or CGTN’ – but the global challenge we are facing means that the moment is bigger than that, and it’s time for those tech platforms to pick what side they’re on and take on the responsibilities of a publisher.”
Angus says that while some platforms like Google and Facebook help to counter misinformation, social media platforms need to step up and do more: “One of the things I’m particularly worried about is the private end-to-end encrypted chat world, and we don’t pay enough attention to this, relative to other digital media.
“On a web page it’s easy to search and uncover disinformation. One of the really difficult things about chat apps – and particularly WhatsApp – is that the material is end-to-end encrypted. It can’t be searched and it is often very hard for us to find that something has been circulated until literally millions of people have seen it. That’s something I’m very worried about.”
On the question of news provision around the world, Angus says: “The World Service is one of the few independent and trusted global voices left. It has become absolutely clear how necessary that role is, because we are seeing an explosion of poor quality and ultimately downright dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus. That is a global phenomenon that requires a global solution.”
Angus points out that for the World Service, “this has been a massively important role that has seen us deliver huge increases in audiences for BBC News this year, particularly for the 42 language services, BBC World News and BBC.com.”