Eleanor Mills, Editorial Director of The Sunday Times - 25 November 2019
Elena Mills, the editorial director of the Sunday Times, came to talk to us about the issue of Fake News and the need to protect true journalism. She began by telling us about why we need journalists and the importance of having a media that ‘holds up a true mirror to society’ and uncovers truths others would like to remain hidden.
In a world where it is increasingly easy to make things up, particularly through the medium of social media, she expressed to us the need to provide people with more facts instead of opinions. As a journalist, she recognised the necessity of shining a light on things that other people may have missed, for example the forceful displacement of people in the Congo in order to extract the cobalt, used in smartphone batteries, that is found there. From writing an article about this, Elena raised over £50,000 for the cause. In addition, the day before she came to talk to us, she had launched a campaign for Britain’s poorest children and raised £150,000 in just 24 hours.
Elena warned us that people intentionally put out fake news and that it is affecting democracy. Studies show that people are significantly more likely to click on fake news than real news because it’s usually more interesting and sensational. As a result, disinformation spreads faster than real information, and thus global social media companies, such as Google and Facebook, have a financial motive to allow their platforms to be used for fake news as it is clicked on more often. She gave a funny but also very scary anecdote about some fake news (now referred to as Pizzagate) which was put out during the American presidential elections claiming that Hillary Clinton was running a paedophile ring in the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant.
Elena took us through some of the ways to distinguish between real and fake news. She told us to ask ourselves: is that really likely to be true? Where is the information coming from? And is it from a globally recognised news organisation like the BBC where there is an editors’ code in place?
Elena also mentioned the importance of having more female representation in the media, and how women are more likely to be ‘trolled’ online. She gave us a personal anecdote about how she had been tormented and called a ‘feminazi’ online after going on Good Morning Britain and giving her opinion on whether the term ‘ladies first’ was outdated!
Overall, Elena’s speech was very thought-provoking and taught us all about the necessity of not believing everything we see, particularly when using social media.