British politicians blasted Facebook and Google for helping create a democratic crisis, with fake news, hypertargeted advertising, and data manipulation putting elections and referenda at risk.
In a report from the UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, lawmakers called on the government to take urgent action to protect the democratic process.
Committee chair Damian Collins said: “We are facing nothing less than a crisis in our democracy – based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens, without their consent, by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate.”
Collins and his cross-party committee have spent the last 18 months investigating the phenomenon of “fake news.” The probe has become increasingly sprawling, tackling everything from targeted advertising in the Brexit campaign, to spread of fake news during the 2016 US election, to how Facebook leaked huge amounts of user information to Cambridge Analytica. A parade of witnesses such as Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie, Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer, and Vote Leave funder Arron Banks all appeared to give evidence.
The wide-ranging report covers numerous issues relating to data misuse, such as fake news in Myanmar, and Russia’s claimed interference in the Catalonia referendum.
It’s recommended several measures designed to bring tech firms and would-be malicious actors to heel. Though the report refers generally to tech firms, Collins and his team clearly have Facebook in their cross-hairs.
The recommendations include:
- Forcing Google, Facebook, and other tech firms to fund the UK’s data watchdog, the ICO.
- Allowing the Electoral Commission to fine tech companies, and be permitted a higher maximum fine than £20,000.
Creating new rules that force tech firms to be liable for the content users post.
Asking the National Crime Agency to investigate the connections between SCL Elections, the parent of Cambridge Analytica, and a new firm backed by the wealthy Mercer family, Emerdata.
That all online political campaigning material should disclose who paid for it and who published it.
This is an interim report, and the full investigation is due in the autumn.
Richard Allen, vice president of policy at Facebook, said Facebook was working on ways to authenticate political ads in the UK.
‘We will work closely with the UK Government and Electoral Commission as we develop these new transparency tools.’
Allen also said Facebook was using machine learning to remove fake accounts and misinformation more quickly.