Streaming networks like Netflix and Hulu aren’t doing enough to fight fake news.
Recently, Facebook has stepped up its efforts to reduce the spread of false information on its social media platform, and that should be celebrated. But online TV giants like Netflix and Hulu are still promoting unsubstantiated – and dangerous – movies and TV shows.
One popular “documentary” found on Hulu is Vaxxed, which was directed by anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield. As you may or may not know, he invented the false autism/vaccine connection and was ultimately barred from practicing medicine for “serious misconduct” relating to his discredited study.
Recently, I posted a tweet encouraging people to hold Hulu and Netflix accountable for giving a platform to those who seek to deceive others in ways that could actually cause serious harm. In the case of Vaxxed, for instance, lives are at risk every time someone sees that movie and decides to skip vaccinations for their kids.
Feel free to retweet if you think @netflix and @hulu should remove “documentaries” that spread knowingly false information from their lineups. “Vaxxed” for instance was directed by discredited anti-vaccine activist Andrew Wakefield who invented the fake autism/vaccine connection.
— David G. McAfee (@DavidGMcAfee) July 4, 2018
The problem isn’t just Vaxxed, of course. Netflix also carries Zeitgeist, which spreads false conspiracy theories linking the Bush Administration to the tragic events of 9/11, and several other films that spread debunked propaganda about a variety of issues. In some cases, they’re dangerous.
To be clear, I’m not looking for censorship here. I don’t want the government to come and shut these networks down because I don’t agree with what they are promoting. What I’m asking for is simply a recognition that not all information is equal, and that Hulu, Netflix, and others have a responsibility (just as the rest of us do) not to spread false ideas that could harm fellow people.
I think these companies should choose to remove these films from their lineups, but there are other options, too. They could create a labeling system in which “documentaries” that spread demonstrably false claims are considered “entertainment,” for example. They could also make more of an effort to promote scientific documentaries, such as Science Moms, featuring the SciMoms group.
The fact is that this is the 21st Century, and this information will always be available somewhere, but why should we give it a wider audience when we don’t need to? And is there any solution for what we do when it starts putting lives at risk?
So far, no. These companies have valued profit over education at every turn, and as a result the “documentary” has lost nearly all its value. Let’s hope we can reverse this trend, and that we determine a good way to separate facts from fiction to protect people across the world.