House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee published its Disinformation and ‘fake news’ Final Report
Written by Samuel O'Toole on 19 February 2019« Return to Reading Room
Following an 18-month inquiry, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS Committee) has published its Disinformation and ‘fake news’ final report. In July 2018 the DCMS Committee published an interim report and following three additional oral evidence sessions, whereby UK regulators and the Government were invited to provide oral evidence, and the receipt of 23 additional written submissions, the final report has now been published.
The final report builds upon the interim report and focuses on the definitions, role and legal liabilities of social media platforms; data misuse and targeting, based around the Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ (AIQ) allegations; political campaigning; Russian influence in political campaigns; SCL influence in foreign elections; and digital literacy.
The report makes a number of recommendations, such as:
The formulation of a Code of Ethics, overseen by an independent regulator, for tech companies. On this point, the DCMS Committee took issue with the fact that Mark Zuckerberg did not respond to its invitations and “has shown contempt towards both the UK Parliament and the ‘International Grand Committee’, involving members from nine legislatures from around the world.”
The report suggests that “such a Code of Ethics should be similar to the Broadcasting Code issued by Ofcom—which is based on the guidelines established in section 319 of the 2003 Communications Act.” It would therefore go some way to establish legal liabilities for tech companies to act against harmful and illegal content on their platforms.
The report goes on to take issue with Facebook and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It reports that “The Information Commissioner told the Committee that Facebook needs to significantly change its business model and its practices to maintain trust. From the documents we received from Six4Three, it is evident that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.”
The report recommends that the Government should review and reform digital electoral laws. It explains that “the Government should look at the ways in which the UK law should define digital campaigning, including having agreed definitions of what constitutes online political advertising, such as agreed types of words that continually arise in adverts that are not sponsored by a specific political party.”
The DCMS Committee states that the Electoral Commission should be given wider powers to conduct its work, such as the right to compel organisations to provide relevant information to its inquires, increasing fining powers (over that of the £20,000 current maximum), the right for the Electoral Commission to petition against an election due to illegal actions (currently only individuals can bring such an action) and the right for the Electoral Commission to intervene or stop someone acting in a campaign if they live outside of the UK.
There is also a call for the public to be more informed about how social media companies operate. The report explains that “Rather than hiding behind complex agreements, they should be informing users of how their sites work, including curation functions and the way in which algorithms are used to prioritise certain stories, news and videos, depending on each user’s profile.”
Overall the report makes number of healthy recommendations, whether or not they are implemented is another question. Sky News has today reported that social networks will become liable for content on their platforms, but will not give the platforms the same liability as traditional publishers.
You can view the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee’s Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Final Report here (pdf): https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/1791/1791.pdf
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