SS 50Newspaper Executive and Media Investor Steve Sampson on why social media channels with pretensions to be your source of news are a dangerous joke


They say the definition of democracy is a free Press. There’s an understatement. You tell me – who else is going to keep you safe from Nixon or Trump. Not Facebook, who were going to give everyone “the best personalised newspaper in the world”. That’s in tatters.

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Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Post” stars Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep

Steven Spielberg’s new film “The Post” (out this Friday) is a story about the most corrupt, evil and immoral President in history lying over Vietnam, subsequently brought down by a dogged brave newspaper that simply wouldn’t give up on Watergate. Fast forward nearly 50 years and ask what has changed.

Actually. There’s one big change. Most people – mainly young people – have been conned with a tsunami of tricked up, faked up news from social networks like Facebook and Buzzfeed. One a channel for over-sharers which served 126 million people bogus Russian “news” across the US Elections. The other famous for livestreaming exploding melons while raising millions of dollars by promising investors a magical new-century media giant.

Both now in spectacular retreat with Zuckerberg set to dial down media groups in a crushing about face. They’re not sorting it, they’re in full retreat from it. They wouldn’t know a story if it bit them on their algorithm.

We still haven’t truly got to the bottom of how these social channels skewed the US and the UK Elections. Mrs May’s flatfoots were outflanked by Labour who learned much quicker how to manipulate the news feed. All parties spending huge amounts to influence their apparent voters. But short story is that a lot of voters were conned.

You might hate the Daily Mail – but only he Mail and its sister paper Mail on Sunday have got the balls among a terrified post-Leveson Press to still take on all-comers, those who would beat down the truth. Who else is going to fight our corner? YouTube? Pinterest?

I think there will be a backlash from a public newly aware that they are being misled at best, lied to. An audience which is better educated, way more informed, hugely opinionated can choose with their thumb. The social networks will retreat or risk closure by a Caligula President. No Election will ever be hi-jacked again.

Robert Redford, who starred in All The President’s Men, famously listened to a group of journalists discussing Watergate on a plane journey. They all knew the truth, none of the journalists believed it would ever come out. The Post’s Editor Ben Bradlee made certain it did.

If The Post wins Best Picture it will remind us all to never take on trust anything anyone in power says. Especially those who kiss babies. And don’t expect a movie in 50 years’ time telling how Zuckerberg or Peretti saved the world.

No. They may be smaller in circulation, less fashionable. But only newspapers will defend you. And that really is the truth.

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, a Director of Trinity Mirror publications including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail as well as Business Insider. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. He is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives and a media adviser.

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