Facebook Slammed for Enabling Fake News to Undermine Democracy

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Category: RegTech
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Facebook, the social media giant, has been under extreme scrutiny since early 2017 as “Fake News” articles have been traced back to the social media platform. The proliferation of misinformation on the social networking site during the 2016 US Presidential Elections prompted many of its users to question the company’s ability to detect and prevent propaganda or fake news to spread on the platform.

The company has since then struggled to implement measures that would prevent the spread of all these fake news articles. In 2017, Facebook rolled out a fact-checking service. However, this did not address the fake news issue as articles containing erroneous and misinformation are still shareable on the platform.

Recently, British politicians have expressed their dismay at Facebook’s inability to prevent malicious entities from spreading propaganda and fake news on the social networking site. The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee has published a report after an 18-month probe into the practices of the social networking giant.

The committee has said that in the modern age, propaganda and political-biases which disguise itself as news, has now taken new forms that are readily accessible by anyone who has access to the internet. The report suggests that the public will consume media that would reinforce their views despite not knowing its veracity and dismiss those that they do not agree with as “fake news”.

According to the committee, articles that only reinforce biases leave no ground for reasoned debate for facts and information to be discussed objectively. When propaganda is spread freely and people fail to recognize the truth, the very fabric of democracy is threatened.

“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalized ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day. Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia,’ said Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee.

 

Recommendations

The DCMS has called for greater transparency for social networking companies to identify the sources of the content published on their platforms along with the parties who have paid for it and the intent of the content.

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites.” MPs concluded. Specifically, they called out Zuckerberg’s refusal to cooperate with the probe as a “failure to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world’s biggest companies”.

Companies are expected to have some responsibility for curating content that is made available through their platforms.

The report also repeats a recommendation that clear legal liabilities should be established for tech companies to act against harmful or illegal content on their sites. The report calls for a compulsory Code of Ethics defining what constitutes harmful content and that an independent regulator should be responsible for monitoring tech companies, backed by statutory powers to launch legal action against companies in breach of the code. Those who fail to comply with their obligations regarding harmful or illegal content would face hefty fines.

Besides harmful or illegal content, the DCMS also recommends that Facebook’s handling of personal data, and its use for political campaigns, are prime and legitimate areas for inspection by regulators.

After being involved in a scandal with Cambridge Analytica regarding the collection of millions of Facebook users’ data without their consent, UK politicians are looking into ways to regulate the use of users' and users' friends' data, and the use of 'reciprocity' of the sharing of data. The report suggested that the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) in the UK should look into the practices employed by Facebook. In late 2018, the company was fined £500,000 for serious breaches of data protection laws in the country.

Despite this though, Facebook still refuses to work with many of the world’s regulating bodies.

“By choosing not to appear before the Committee and by choosing not to respond personally to any of our invitations, Mark Zuckerberg has shown contempt towards both our Committee and the 'International Grand Committee' involving members from nine legislators from around the world.” MPs in the UK said.