UK MPs call for social media regulation to combat fake news

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UK lawmakers have criticised Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, for breaking the UK’s data privacy laws and they urgently need to be regulated to combat fake news, according to a new report published on Monday (Feb.18th).

A report from the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) select committee concluded that the firm’s founder failed to show “leadership or personal responsibility” over the rise of fake news on its platform.

In the 108-page document, lawmakers called for a compulsory code of ethics and an independent regulator, with the power to impose “large fines” on companies that violate the law.

“Digital gangsters”

“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the report said.

The committee also accuses CEO Mark Zuckerberg of “contempt” after he failed to attend a joint disinformation hearing in London last year, and instead, sent other representatives to testify on his behalf.

“Mark Zuckerberg continually fails 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,” Damian Collins, chair of the committee, said on the committee’s website.

In a statement on its website, Facebook said it made a “significant contribution” to the committee’s investigation over the last 18 months, answering more than “700 of their questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.”

“While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago,” Karim Palant, Facebook’s head of UK public policy, said.

“We believe that in its evidence to the Committee, Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions,” Collins said.

Facebook’s data collection practices

Much of the report also focuses on Facebook’s data collection practices before and after the Cambridge Analytica Scandal.

The report also highlights documents obtained by the committee relating to the Californian court case brought by US-based app developer Six4Three. A batch of emails published by the committee in December showed that Facebook considered giving app developers access to users’ personal data.

At the time, however, Facebook insisted that it does not sell user data and that the emails tell only “one side of the story”.

“The evidence that we obtained from the Six4Three court documents indicates that Facebook was willing to override its users’ privacy settings in order to transfer data to some app developers, to charge high prices in advertising to some developers, for the exchange of that data, and to starve some developers – such as Six4Three – of that data, thereby causing them to lose their business,” the committee said in the report. “It seems clear that Facebook was, at the very least, in violation of its Federal Trade Commission settlement.”

Fake news

The committee welcomed the findings of an independent UK government report published last week calling for tech giants such as Facebook, Apple, and Google display news to be regulated in a bid to combat the spread of fake news.

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