Fake news, disinformation and social media regulation: All you need to know

Social media sites should face a compulsory code of ethics in order to tackle harmful or illegal content online, a Commons committee has said.

The report comes after a parliamentary inquiry into fake news by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

Here are some key questions around what it all means.

– What is the fake news inquiry?

MPs began looking into the issue of fake news in 2017 after a rising tide of hoaxers and propagandists spread misinformation on social media, either to push an agenda or make money.

As time went on, the inquiry expanded to investigate wider issues around the effect huge technology companies such as Facebook can have on citizens and society, how some individuals and companies try to manipulate people through social media, and whether Russia had a role in influencing voters in the EU referendum.

MPs from across the House of Commons heard from dozens of academics, executives, political operatives and experts between October 2017 and July 2018 before producing an interim report last year, followed by this final report.

– What does the final report say?

MPs warned that democracy was at risk from the “malicious and relentless” targeting of citizens with disinformation and adverts from unidentifiable sources, delivered through social media.

Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia, said committee chairman Damian Collins.

He added that big tech companies were failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.

The report also said electoral law was “not fit for purpose” and should be updated to reflect the move to “microtargeted” online political campaigning.

For 2018, my personal challenge has been to focus on addressing some of the most important issues facing our community…

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Friday, December 28, 2018

Meanwhile, MPs rounded on Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, who was accused of showing “contempt” towards the committee by choosing not to appear before it last year.

– So what does the report recommend?

The committee said ethics guidelines were needed to set out what is and what is not acceptable on social media. The latter includes harmful and illegal content that has been flagged to the platforms by users or identified by the companies themselves.

If tech companies fail to meet their obligations under the code, then an independent regulator should be able to launch legal proceedings against them and have the power to issue large fines, the MPs said.

The committee also called for a comprehensive review of the current rules and regulations surrounding political work during elections and referenda, and separately urged the Government to put pressure on social media companies to publicise instances of disinformation.

– What happens next?

The Government is expected to publish a white paper later this year on proposals to reform laws to make the internet and social media safer.

A Government spokesman said the Culture Secretary would travel to the United States to meet with tech giants including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple to discuss many of the issues raised in the report.

Technology, LifeWeb editor