MPs in Britain have once again voiced the need for Facebook to have stricter regulations, calling for urgent measures to combat the proliferation of fake news through the social network, a BBC report reveals.
The firm’s chief, Mark Zuckerberg has been accused of failing to demonstrate leadership and personal responsibility by a Commons committee, due to an inability to control misinformation being distributed by foreign powers across Facebook which threatens to undermine democracy in the UK.
Acknowledging the timely importance of the committee’s report, Facebook has said it would be willing to consider “meaningful regulation” as MPs demand a major shift in the balance of power between people and social media channels to tackle the spread of untrue stories.
The report, conducted by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee looked into fake news for over a year. Many of the findings were rooted Facebook’s behaviours and practices before and after the unravelling of the Cambridge Analytica controversy.
The UK-based data intelligence firm used a personality test to harvest the personal details of millions of Facebook users, which in turn were used profile voters and issue targeted campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 presidential elections in the US.
The Committee’s report focused on the ways in which Facebook shared such data, and how the practice was aligned with political campaigning.
The report concluded:
“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 every day.”
“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.”
The report said that the following were also needed:
a compulsory code of ethics for tech companies, overseen by an independent regulator
the regulator to be given powers to launch legal action if companies breach the code
the government to reform current electoral laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections
social media companies to be forced to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation
tech companies operating in the UK to be taxed to help fund the work for the Information Commissioner’s Office and any new regulator set up to oversee them
“We share the Committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.
“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform. But we’re not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do.”
Summarising what MPs felt had been a sometimes difficult relationship with Facebook over the course of the inquiry, chair Damian Collins said:
“We believe that in its evidence to the committee, Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at time misleading answers to our questions.”
“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 seems to be that it is better to apologise than ask permission.”
Mark Zuckerberg’s reluctance to appear in the UK in person to answer questions has continued to frustrate those at the centre of the discussions.
“Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to 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.”
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