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Make social media firms pay to curb ‘fake news’ tide, say UK MPs

Lawmakers blame firms like Facebook and Twitter for the spread of disinformation and say they should pay for special classes that teach children how to recognise untrue stories

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 9:47pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 July, 2018, 9:47pm

Britain should levy social media firms to fund efforts at stemming a “fake news” crisis threatening the fabric of democracy, a leaked report by lawmakers claims.

It recommends using the cash to finance school classes on “digital literacy”, teach public awareness around the issue and better fund data watchdog the Information Commissioners Office.

The proposal is one of many made in the House of Commons committee paper as it rounds on tech giants including Facebook, Twitter and Google.

Such firms act “irresponsibly” over data collection, “influencing what we see” in an unregulated social media landscape akin to the “wild west”, the report insists.

“We are facing nothing less than a crisis in our democracy – based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens, without their consent, by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate,” said Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman Damian Collins. “Throughout our inquiry these companies have tried to frustrate scrutiny and obfuscated in their answers.”

They must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites
Damian Collins

The paper outlines recommendations for audits of social media security mechanisms and for the introduction of a new category of tech company that bridges the gap between platform and publisher.

The committee hopes to force social media firms into assuming liability for harmful or illegal content on their sites – which they profit from but abdicate responsibility for by claiming they are only a “platform” according to the findings.

“The light of transparency must be allowed to shine on their operations and they must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites”, said Collins.

It also renewed calls for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the committee to answer “questions to which Facebook has not responded adequately”, after he neglected to appear following the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

The report was leaked online by Dominic Cummings, a chief official in the Vote Leave movement during the Brexit referendum campaign, who refused to appear before the committee to address concerns over their online efforts in the run-up to the 2016 vote.

He called the report itself “fake news” which “knowingly/incompetently makes false claims” about pro-Brexit organisations.

A government spokeswoman said: “The government takes disinformation very seriously, as with all types of online manipulation and internet harms … We note the committee’s report and will consider its final recommendations.”