Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

‘Digital gangster’ Facebook and others need regulation, say British MPs

New report marks the end of an 18-month investigation into social media platforms

British MPs recommended that the government increase oversight of social media platforms like Facebook to better control harmful or illegal content. AP
British MPs recommended that the government increase oversight of social media platforms like Facebook to better control harmful or illegal content. AP

British MPs are calling for government regulation of social media platforms, singling out Facebook as a “digital gangster” which “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws”.

The damning criticism of Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook forms part of a report into disinformation and fake news. MPs interviewed experts from the industry, including executives from Facebook.

Chair of the committee, Damian Collins, accused Facebook of giving "incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading" responses, saying a “radical shift” was needed to redress the balance of power between the public and social media platforms.

“The age of inadequate self-regulation must come to an end,” he said. “The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator.”

The 108-page report made a series of recommendations, including a compulsory code of ethics for social media companies and creating a regulator with powers to pursue platforms flouting this code.

It also said social media companies had a responsibility to remove harmful content and disinformation, citing the success of German legislation which threatened fines of up to €20 million (Dh83.2m) for failing to remove offending posts in good time.

The proposed regulator would be paid for by taxing social media companies which operate in the UK, the report concluded.

It also said current UK election law was “not fit for purpose” after the Cambridge Analytica scandal which saw the company misuse data harvested from the Facebook data of millions of people without their consent for political purposes, and interference in the 2016 and 2018 US elections.

Facebook responded to the committee, saying it has made “significant” contributions to the investigation and shared its concerns about fake news and electoral integrity.

"We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee's recommendation for electoral law reform,” the company said.

“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."

Updated: February 18, 2019 04:22 PM

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