With the 1,000 day countdown to the 2020 Olympic Games now in full swing, it has been reported that the Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is actively monitoring social media trends with a view to combating the spread of “fake news”. The term “fake news” has become something of a phenomenon in recent months and the potential harm it can do has become a major topic of discussion in society. In addition to the wider risks of societal harm, businesses increasingly appear to be falling victim to fake news campaigns, from fake sales promotions to false reports of dangerous products on the market. Whilst ‘rumours’ and ‘gossip’ have always been potentially damaging, the ability for immediate and widespread dissemination on ‘alternative’ online news platforms makes inaccurate publicity in the modern age a pressing concern.
For a sports event, where public opinion has the potential to drastically influence ticket sales, viewing figures and more, “fake news” has become a highly relevant consideration. The Tokyo 2020 Organising Committee has met this challenge head-on, indicating that its aim is to address factual inaccuracies at an early stage and to engage proactively with public opinion:
“In modern society, the voices of the public can be seen… Therefore we don’t believe that we will be able to spend the next 1,000 days until the opening ceremony unscathed.”
Examples, of this approach in action was its swift responses to criticism regarding the provision of wood by local governments for use in the roof and columns for the Olympic “village plaza”, the opening of the volunteering application system, and an initiative to collect metal from unwanted cellphones and electronic devices to help create the medals. The Organising Committee was able to monitor negative trends on these topics, respond accordingly and correct inaccuracies and misconceptions at an early stage. From a PR angle, the approach seems thoroughly sensible.
On the legal side, however, when stories based on factual inaccuracies do spread and become more damaging, addressing “fake news” can be tricky. Indeed, the UK government’s Media and Sport Select Committee launched an inquiry on the subject early this year and the European Commission announced only yesterday that it would also be launching a public consultation on “fake news and disinformation”. Consultations such as these will aim to assess the impact and risk of so-called “fake news”, identify ways of addressing and/or regulating its dissemination, and enabling individuals to identify fake news for what it is.