Fake news has plunged democracy into crisis with voters being systematically manipulated by campaigns of hate and disinformation, a Commons committee has warned. In a blistering attack, MPs rounded on tech giants such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, for acting “irresponsibly” over data collection and called for new laws to make them accountable for the content on their sites.
Users’ behavior is being “modified and changed” at the hands of social media companies and there is currently no sign of the practice ending, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee warned. New laws must be introduced to clamp down on the “wild west” social media world, they urged.
The wide-ranging investigation shone a light on everything from Facebook’s apparent failures to stop the inciting of hatred against Rohingya Muslims in Burma to the “intractability” of tech companies in recognizing Russian meddling in elections.
Committee chairman 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.
“In this inquiry we have pulled back the curtain on the secretive world of the tech giants, which have acted irresponsibly with the vast quantities of data they collect from their users.
“Despite concerns being raised, companies like Facebook made it easy for developers to scrape user data and to deploy it in other campaigns without their knowledge or consent.
“Throughout our inquiry these companies have tried to frustrate scrutiny and obfuscated in their answers.
“The light of transparency must be allowed to shine on their operations and they must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites.”
Tech firms tried to dodge scrutiny throughout the parliamentary probe and key figures were lambasted for failing to give evidence or being evasive when they did.
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. In its report, the committee called for a new category of tech company to be introduced that plugs the gap between platform and publisher the firms fall through.
It would force social media firms to take action over harmful and illegal content. MPs said the firms have profited from posts that lead to high levels of engagement.