Digital News Report 2017

Drawing by Terry Freedman

Drawing by Terry Freedman

There are some interesting items here relating to fake news and other areas of interest to ed tech teachers.

  • Some people are turning to messaging apps like WhatsApp for news, because they are more private and don’t put so much store by using algorithms to filter content. Apparently, in Malaysia, Brazil and Spain WhatsApp is giving Facebook a run for its money.

I thought this was an interesting finding because it’s quite evident (to me at any rate) that the potential for implicit bias in so-called objective algorithms is becoming an open secret. In a recent issue of Digital Education I wrote about hidden biases, and described a very prescient science fiction story written several decades ago. That was in an article called Recipes as algorithms: food for thought, in the issue of 20th September 2017. Before that, in the issue sent out on 1st August, I looked at a book called Weapons of Math Destruction. And recently I’ve received a book called Technically wrong: sexist apps, biased algorithms and other threats of toxic tech, by Sara Wachter-Boettcher. (Amazon affiliate link.) I’ll be reviewing this book in the new year.


I've started reading this book. It contains interesting (and unsurprising) information about the kind of people so-called cutting edge tech companies recruit. That is to say, mainly people like themselves: white, middle-class males. I'm not sure how far this is true of all, or even most companies, but there is an important point here about people working and living in a bubble, or echo chamber, or whatever you wish to call it. Anyway, I'll have more to say about this book in a future issue of Digital Education.

  • Traditional journalism is not dead yet. Only 24% of survey respondents thought social media did a good job of separating fact from fiction, compared to 40% for mainstream media.

Mind you, I don’t think 40% is much to be proud of! It seems to be explained in another report bearing the marvellous title Bias, Bullshit and Lies: Audience Perspectives on Low Trust in the Media. Here’s a key quote:

“Bias, spin and hidden agendas come across as the main reasons for lack of trust in the news media along with a perceived decline in journalistic standards driven by greater competition and some online business models. These concerns are strongest with the young and with those on low incomes. Trust in the news that people find in social media is lower still, but similar trends are at play - bias, agendas and low quality information. The report argues that this is largely a function of a model that allows anybody to publish without checks, and algorithms that sometimes favour extreme or contentious content.”


“Among those who do not trust the news media, the vast majority of open-end responses (67%) relate to bias, spin, and agendas. Simply put, a significant proportion of the public feels that powerful people are using the media to push their own political or economic interests, rather than represent ordinary readers or viewers. These feelings are most strongly held by those who are young and by those that earn the least.”

Related to this, here’s a heads-up of a forthcoming book (planned to be launched at the Bett Show in January). Called “Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says”, edited by Rose Luckin and published by UCL, it contains a chapter written by me which looks at why educational research is often reported so badly by the mainstream media. One of the reasons is the pressure facing those who work in the industry (for instance, one editor was responsible for 500 stories a week). Look out for further announcements.

  • “More smartphone users now access news in bed (46%) than use the device when commuting to work.” Funnily enough, I was thinking about writing an article about my early morning routine, but then decided that it would be of interest to nobody. But the interesting thing for me is that I tend to check the news from my phone as soon as I wake up. It’s partly to see if we’ve managed to not be in WWIII, and once I’ve ascertained that, everything else (higher taxes, poorer health service, politicians messing with education) seems not quite so bad. Then I check out the tech news and ed tech news, so I can collate stuff for this esteemed publication.

  • Apparently, lots of people, especially young people, in the USA are paying for online news subscriptions.

If you’d like to read the report yourself, here’s the link (pdf download): Digital News Report 2017

Further reading:

Have a look at the links suggested at the end of January's article on Fake News.

For the full list of articles featured in our 2017 Retrospective, please visit:

2017 Retrospective: Index of featured articles