MPs accuse government of ‘hiding’ over social media regulation

Fake news: A Facebook ad on the topic was rolled out in May. A group of senior MPs has accused the government of “hiding” amid a highly critical report into the role of tech companies on digital advertising and fake news.

Fake news: A Facebook ad on the topic was rolled out in May

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee warned of a democratic crisis being caused by the manipulation of personal data during election campaigns as it published an update to its report on disinformation and fake news today.

The report, the first version of which was published in July, issued demands for “algorithmic authoriting” that would allow more regulation of tech companies’ secret practices, as well as a digital version of Ofcom that would make social media companies legally liable for harmful or illegal content. It followed a disinformation campaign waged by Russian operatives during the 2016 US presidential election and UK Brexit referendum.

Today, the select committee complained that only three of the report’s 42 recommendations have been accepted outright by the government, while four were rejected.

One of those rejected was a recommendation to put a tax on social media companies that would be used to fund education in digital literacy.

The committee also called for an audit of the advertising market by the Competition and Markets Authority. This audit would identify fake accounts on sites operated by companies such as Facebook and Twitter.

The government did not respond to this and instead said it “regularly engages with Facebook and has made clear that social media companies need to take far more responsibility for illegal and harmful content on their platforms”.

But Damian Collins, the MP who chairs the committee, said: “The government’s response to our interim report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ is disappointing and a missed opportunity. It uses other ongoing investigations to further delay desperately needed announcements on the ongoing issues of harmful and misleading content being spread through social media.

“We need to see a more co-ordinated approach across government to combat campaigns of disinformation being organised by Russian agencies seeking to disrupt and undermine our democracy. The government’s response gives us no real indication of what action is being taken on this important issue.”

The government’s response to the Disinformation and ‘Fake News’: Interim Report has been published ahead of culture secretary Jeremy Wright’s first appearance in front of the committee tomorrow (24 October). Wright took over from Karen Bradley in July.

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