LONDON: Microsoft President and Vice Chairman Brad Smith has hinted that the tech giant is adopting a different approach to tackling disinformation and fake news.
While other companies focus their efforts on removing fake content, and telling users what is true and what is not, Microsoft wants to avoid any suggestion that it is trying to censor speech online.
“I don’t think that people want governments to tell them what’s true or false. And I don’t think they’re really interested in having tech companies tell them either,” Smith said in an interview on Wednesday.
The comments highlight Microsoft’s stance compared with other firms, and show that the corporation is committed to tracking and disrupting digital propaganda efforts.
Although details are still being worked out, Smith indicated that Microsoft’s main objective is to be “transparent.” The idea is to track disinformation campaigns and make their existence public.
“It turns out that if you tell people what’s going on, then that knowledge inspires both action and conversation about the steps that global governments need to take to address these issues,” said Tom Burt, corporate vice president for customer security and trust.
Microsoft’s approach, which favors freedom of speech and rests on the belief that “all news is news,” is ambitious, even though it could turn out to be a disproportionate solution for a society already struggling to cope with widespread misinformation online.
In a recent study, Pew Research Center revealed that 33 percent of TikTok users, one of the world’s most used social media app with over 1 billion active profiles, said they take their news from the platform.
However, analysts at NewsGuard, a company that rates the credibility of news and information websites, discovered that around one in five of the platform’s suggested videos includes false content.
Since Microsoft owns popular platforms such as Bing, MSN and LinkedIn, experts warn of a possible backlash over its reluctance to identify fake news, particularly as “debate over truth has become a politicized topic, with US lawmakers alleging that social media companies stifle right-wing voices,” as US journalist Margi Murphy pointed out.
Meta and Twitter have been at the center of intense scrutiny over their role in fighting online disinformation, and their efforts to flag and take down false or misleading posts from their platforms have faced heavy criticism.
Smith said that Microsoft is committed to providing the public with more information about who is speaking, what they are saying, and helping people to come to their own conclusion about whether the information is genuine.
“We have to be very thoughtful and careful because — and this is also true of every democratic government — fundamentally, people quite rightly want to make up their own mind and they should,” he said.
“Our whole approach needs to be to provide people with more information, not less, and we cannot trip over and use what others might consider censorship as a tactic.”