facebook, facebook like, technology, law

An influential parliamentary committee has pushed for new laws to ban alternative news sites, it has been revealed.

The interim report from the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has recommended that British regulators should be given more control over Facebook and Google to stop the spread of whatever they consider to be “fake news”.

In the 87-page document, the committee warns that democracy is under threat from the spread of disinformation on social media. “Arguably, more invasive than obviously false information,” the report says, “is the relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour.”

It adds: “We are faced with a crisis concerning the use of data, the manipulation
of our data, and the targeting of pernicious views.”

The MPs recommend that the government should implement a series of measures which, if adopted, would subject the technology platforms – which now dominate the flow of information online – to a far greater level of scrutiny by government bodies than ever before.

The DCMS committee, which has been conducting a wide-ranging investigation into so-called fake news since early 2017, warns that the current legal and regulatory regime is no longer fit for a digital media landscape that has changed profoundly in recent years and has proven to be vulnerable to manipulation, including by foreign states determined to disrupt democratic processes.

Furthermore, the report suggested that British watchdogs should have the power to examine the algorithms used by the tech platforms “to ensure they are operating responsibly”, drawing a comparison to the auditing of company finances.

Current regulatory rules which require TV and radio broadcasts to be accurate and impartial should also be extended to online publications, to stop the spread of disinformation on the internet, according to the report.

The committee added that social media companies should be made liable for for any subversive or alternative news content on their websites. If this occurs, this meant that social media companies could potentially face legal claims by regulators and individuals or companies who are affected by the material shared on their platforms.

The report also made clear the MPs’s frustrations with Facebook. “Facebook has all of the information,” it says. “Those outside of the company have none of it, unless Facebook chooses to release it. Facebook was reluctant to share information with the Committee, which does not bode well for future transparency.”

Moreover, the report urges the government to make the provenance of digital advertisements clearer and to restrict the micro-targeting of advertising to Facebook users, so that the claims being made by campaigners online are subject to greater scrutiny.

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