NEWS 

Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report published

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee yesterday published its final report on Disinformation and ‘fake news’.

Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report published
Damian Collins: "The challenge for the year ahead is to start to fix them; we cannot delay any longer." Photograph: Jamie Street on Unsplash

The report calls for:

  • Compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies overseen by independent regulator
  • Regulator given powers to launch legal action against companies breaching code
  • Government to reform current electoral communications laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections
  • Social media companies obliged to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation

It further finds that:

  • Electoral law ‘not fit for purpose’
  • Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws

Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee said: “Our inquiry over the last year has identified three big threats to our society. The challenge for the year ahead is to start to fix them; we cannot delay any longer.

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use everyday. Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.

“The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.

“Companies like Facebook exercise massive market power which enables them to make money by bullying the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers.

“These are issues that the major tech companies are well aware of, yet continually fail to address. The guiding principle of the ‘move fast and break things’ culture often seems to be that it is better to apologise than ask permission.

“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people. The age of inadequate self regulation must come to an end. The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator.

“We also have to accept that our electoral regulations are hopelessly out of date for the internet age. We need reform so that the same principles of transparency of political communications apply online, just as they do in the real world. More needs to be done to require major donors to clearly establish the source of their funds.

“Much of the evidence we have scrutinised during our inquiry has focused on the business practices of Facebook; before, during and after the Cambridge Analytica data breach scandal.

“We believe that in its evidence to the Committee Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions.

“Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to the billions of Facebook users across the world. Evidence uncovered by my Committee shows he still has questions to answer yet he’s continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don’t have the right information. Mark Zuckerberg continually fails to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies.

“We also repeat our call to the Government to make a statement about how many investigations are currently being carried out into Russian interference in UK politics. We want to find out what was the impact of disinformation and voter manipulation on past elections including the UK Referendum in 2016 and are calling on the Government to launch an independent investigation.”

Click here for more information and to download the full report.