Posted: Wed 10th Jan 2024

Debate in Senedd on online misinformation impact

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales
This article is old - Published: Wednesday, Jan 10th, 2024

The quality of information online was raised during First Ministers Questions, with a challenge over 20MPH zones being batted away by Mark Drakeford. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Clwyd South MS Ken Skates asked the First Minister Mark Drakeford for his thoughts on the “threat to Welsh democracy posed by the sharing of misinformation online”, adding “Over Christmas, I was sent a link by a constituent to a news item on an American platform purporting to be a news provider, which claimed that the Welsh Government was using 14-year-old schoolgirls to attract military-age men from countries where there are no rape laws, including Africa and the middle east. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

He asked, “Would you agree that this sort of news article is totally unacceptable, damaging to democracy, and, First Minister, do you think there are some other examples over recent weeks of misinformation being promoted online, perhaps emanating from closer to home?” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

First Minister Mark Drakeford said, “I’m aware of the story to which Ken Skates refers, and it is both utterly untrue and utterly irresponsible to make such claims. Here were a group of young people of their own volition looking to make sure that others who might come to their area would feel welcomed and know that they would be welcomed in that community. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

“The result of that misreporting is that those children’s welcome has had to be taken down and that new security arrangements have had to be made at those places where the Welsh Refugee Council operates. Individuals who work for the refugee council were named in those highly irresponsible reports and have had their own lives disrupted as a result. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

“The police are involved in investigating what has been said, that willful misrepresentation by people who claim—and it’s a sickening claim—to be interested in the well-being of young people, whereas, in fact, everything that they have done has acted to put young people at greater risk. Anybody who claims to care about the safety of our young people should not be sharing false claims about them.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

North Wales MS Mark Isherwood asked a connected question, “I endorse Ken Skates’ concerns about that particular issue. More broadly, people, young and old, increasingly self-select their news from online sources that reinforce rather than challenge their own perceptions. In consequence, I regularly receive e-mails on many issues claiming that they are, and I quote ‘all part of a cunning plan by Big Brother governments to control our lives‘. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Mr Isherwood said, “The Welsh Government allocated £1.6 million to a communications campaign running alongside the implementation of its default 20 mph policy, using selective evidence and ignoring all the research and evidence that challenge their claims. ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

“Last week, it was revealed that the Welsh Government is spending over £500,000 of taxpayers’ money on a public engagement strategy, including over £61,000 on social media advertising, to burnish its own green credentials, at a time when it’s making widespread cuts to public services and despite the climate change committee finding that Wales is making insufficient progress in this area. How can you justify such actions when their provably inaccurate content only fuels the public scepticism we’re all concerned about?” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

The First Minister fired back, “The Member talked about self-selected information and then continued to offer us exactly that. Let us take the two examples that he offers. The claims that were made, set out in the Welsh Government’s documentation, around 20 mph zones were tested by the UK Statistics Authority, who found that what we said was accurate and asked us to put even more information into the public domain, which we then did, to demonstrate the truth of what we said in that assessment. It did not find for a single moment that what we had said was untrue; it simply asked us to do more to help people to see the truth of the claims that we had made.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Moving to Mr Isherwood’s second point about a new promo campaign he replied, “Has he not seen today the news about the impact of climate change over the last 12 months alone—a year in which, day after day, the impact of climate change was being seen in the United Kingdom? We spent £0.5 million to try to save the planet, and the Conservative Party want to take issue with it. Every amount in that budget is designed not to burnish the credentials of the Welsh Government; it uses information from private employers, it uses information from other employers here in Wales, and it is designed to demonstrate that, by acting together, it is possible to do something to tackle the greatest challenge that faces us today and which would otherwise be left to our children and our grandchildren to pick up the mess that has been created. How can it be—how can it be—that a serious political party thinks that they can make a point about spending £0.5 million to contribute to that being a misuse of public money? I do not regret a single penny of it, and neither should you.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

Adam Price MS took up the mantle of misinformation, telling the chamber, “Devolved Governments are at the forefront of efforts to combat the threat of disinformation to our democracy. The province of South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have banned disinformation in political advertising. The states of Michigan and Minnesota have prohibited the use of deceptive deep-fake media in election campaigns. And, at a different scale, the EU has recently announced that it will end the use of personal data in political microtargeting. We have the power to do all of those things and more, and we have the vehicle in the Elections and Elected Bodies (Wales) Bill. So, will the Welsh Government place Wales at the front line in this battle against the political pandemic of lies and deception that is threatening the future of democracy worldwide?” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

The First Minister replied, “I definitely do want Wales to be on the front line of that effort, and there are things that we are doing already in Wales. On 1 November, the new digital imprints regime was instituted here in Wales. In future, overseen by the Electoral Commission, when political parties publish information—not in print, where it’s always been necessary to have an imprint on it, but digitally—it will in future be necessary to have information there that shows where that information has come from. At the same time, we will provide, as a Government, in future elections, an online information platform, which will provide voters with reliable information about the candidates who are putting themselves forward and policies that political parties are pursuing.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

“One of the things that I think democracies can do is to provide a place where voters and citizens can go to find information that has been authenticated and on which they can rely. And I hope that, in Wales, we’re already doing things to move in that direction, and there may be more ideas from other parts of the world, as Adam Price has outlined, that we can learn from and adopt here too.” ‌​‌‌​​​‌‍‌​‌​‌‌‌​‍‌​​​‌​‌‌‍‌​​​‌‌​‌‍‌​​‌‌‌‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌​​‌​‌​​‍‌​‌‌‌​‌‌‍‌​​‌‌​‌​‍‌​​‌‌‌​​‍‌‌​​‌‌​‌‍‌‌​​‌‌​​

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