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British MPs slam Facebook over fake news and meddling

By Earle Gale in London | | Updated: 2019-02-19 01:28
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A British parliamentary committee that investigated disinformation and fake news says social networking giant Facebook deliberately broke the United Kingdom’s privacy and competition laws and should be more closely regulated.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s report followed an 18-month probe and concludes that Facebook purposefully obstructed the investigation.

The committee, which comprises members from all of the UK’s main political parties, said Facebook and its executives effectively behaved like “digital gangsters”.

Damian Collins, the Conservative Party MP who chaired the committee, told The Guardian technology giants threatened the British way of life.

“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,” he said.

The report criticized Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook, for refusing three times to give evidence and said his assertions that Facebook had never sold users’ data were “simply untrue”. The committee said misappropriated data was subsequently used by entities in attempts to sway public opinion.

“Facebook continues to choose profit over data security, taking risks in order to prioritize their aim of making money from user data,” the report states. “It seems clear to us that Facebook acts only when serious breaches become public.”

The report calls on the British government to address threats by setting up an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation, and the sharing of data” in relation to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum, and the 2017 general election and said the UK’s electoral laws were no longer adequate to address threats, leaving the nation vulnerable to foreign interference.

Karim Palant, Facebook’s UK public policy manager, said the company was “pleased to have made a significant contribution” to the committee’s investigation.

“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform,” Palant said. “We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorized, state who is paying for it, and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years.”

The opposition Labour Party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, who is also shadow culture secretary, said: “Labour agrees with the committee’s ultimate conclusion – the era of self-regulation for tech companies must end immediately. We need new independent regulation with tough powers and sanctions regime to curb the worst excesses of surveillance capitalism and the forces trying to use technology to subvert our democracy.”

Britain’s culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, is slated to travel to the United States this week to meet Zuckerberg and representatives from Google, Twitter, and Apple for discussions on social media issues. Sky News said he is likely to also talk about the committee’s 108-page report.

The government, meanwhile, said it plans to publish a white paper later this year detailing proposed changes to laws aimed at making the internet safer.

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