DCMS fake news report: let’s take action against ‘digital gangsters’ at Facebook

This week, the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Committee published its final report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ and Facebook is under fire.

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This week, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee published its final report on disinformation and ‘fake news’.

The document comes as the result of an 18-month investigation by the Committee into disinformation designed to cause “disruption and confusion” and pays particular attention to Facebook’s apparent disregard for UK data privacy and anti-competition laws.

Breaching privacy regulations

Fierce news coverage of events such as the Cambridge Analytica scandal has opened the public’s eyes to Facebook’s penchant for being economical with the truth. The social media giant consistently rejects the idea that it sells its users data to third parties, however, MPs aren’t buying it.

The Committee also accuses Facebook of acting in an anti-competitive manner by charging “high prices in advertising to some developers, for the exchange of data, and starv[ing] other developers… contributing to them losing their business”.

Other allegations against Facebook include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Choosing “profit over data security”
  • Considering itself to be “beyond the law”
  • “Bullying” the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers
  • Purposely providing “incomplete” or “misleading answers” to the Culture Committee of MPs when questioned

It’s pretty scathing stuff, but Zuckerberg hasn’t exactly moved mountains to produce a counter-argument. In fact, the Facebook mogul declined an invite from UK and Canadian lawmakers to attend a hearing about fake news and disinformation in London in November last year.

Political concerns

In other areas of the report, the cross-party group of MPs express concerns about “dark adverts” from anonymous sources, in particular, politically charged campaigns that target citizen with false information and propaganda. The report labels Facebook and its top bods as ‘digital gangsters’ who have effectively put democracy at risk by allowing such sources to use the platform to target voters, and calls for electoral regulations to be brought up to date and line with the digital world we now live in.

Tackling the decline in trust

The 2019 annual global study by the Edelman Trust Barometer claims that, while trust in search and traditional media are at their highest historical levels, trust in social media as a news source remains low.

Facebook gets a deservedly rough ride in the DCMS Committee’s report, but the issues raised are applicable to all social media sites. As a result, lawmakers are calling for the creation of an independent regulator for social media platforms and a compulsory Code of Ethics that, if breached, could result in “large fines.” Because fines have proved such an effective deterrent in the past. Not.

There are also calls for the Government to reform current electoral communications laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections, although we seem to be doing a pretty good job of messing those up ourselves.

While the Government has taken a step in the right direction in officially recognising that changes do need to be made, it’s one thing calling for greater regulations, but implementing something that will keep up with the constantly evolving world of the internet and social media is no mean feat. For a start, how do you monitor the constant activity of over 2 billion users? Who is going to monitor the constant activity of over 2 billion users? Who decides what is classed as ‘harmful’? How do you stop anonymous users? Who’s going to fund all this?

Later in the year, the Government is expected to publish a white paper outlining proposals to legal reforms to make social media, and the internet as a whole, a safer place. It will be interesting to see what actions are taken as a result of the DCMS Committee’s investigation.

If you fancy some light bedtime reading, you can access all 108 pages of the report here.

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