Editorial: A dark winter of discontent for journalism

The prospects for some winter business sectors might be brighter this year in B.C., but for information integrity enterprises in the province, the temperature keeps dropping.

That integrity is under siege on all fronts. Leading the onslaught is what the Macdonald-Laurier Institute (MLI) has dubbed Social Media Enterprises (SMEs) and the Big Tech algorithms that inflate and promote rumour, innuendo, conspiracy and sensationalism at the expense of reality and facts.

Welcome to the not so brave new world of anonymous character assassination and guilt by accusation as the process for pursuing truth becomes increasingly corrupted.

The result has been devastating for traditional media, whose integrity in the eyes of the public continues to unravel as Big Tech information parasites soak up their revenue streams. The quality of public discourse has also suffered serious collateral damage.

Increasingly, Canadians have been left with what PressReader describes as news deserts: “Communities with limited access to credible and comprehensive news.”

Sadly, SMEs have not been required to shoulder the accountability that information distribution requires if it is to remain credible.

In a paper released earlier this year, the MLI proposes that Canada institute a national Social Media Responsibility Act, which would establish a framework to “moderate and minimize online harms [and] impose duties of care on large, powerful social media platforms.” Principles of free speech would also be a fundamental part of the act.

The proposal has much merit.

All sides in the SME business need clarity over ground rules and operating standards.

There is no free speech without transparency and accountability, and there are no public checks on political or corporate power without free speech.

Traditional media companies, though far from perfect, have their roots in those principles. If social media companies are not required to adhere to those same principles, much more than basic information integrity will be in trouble.