Damian Collins
Damian Collins

Describing the phenomenon of “fake news” as largely a result of material circulated through social media, a report issued by the UK Government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee says that tech companies should be held responsible for “harmful and misleading material” that appears on their sites.

“Companies like Facebook made it easy for for developers to scrape user data and to deploy it in other campaigns without their knowledge or consent,” said DCMS chairman Damian Collins. “The light of transparency must be allowed to shine on their operations.”

In what the DMCS terms an “interim report,” the committee made a list of recommendations for reforms that they say would begin to tackle the problem.

• Make companies responsible and liable. The report recommends that a new category of tech company be formulated, one that would make clear that those companies are not simply passive platforms on which users input content.

• Impose a levy on tech companies that would finance a comprehensive media educational framework.

• Change the rules on political campaigning. The committee suggest the formation of a public register that would require all political advertising work to be listed for public display.

• Conduct a government audit of fake accounts. “If companies like Facebook and Twitter fail to act against fake accounts,” the committee says, the UK’s Competition and Market Authority should “consider conducting an audit of the operation of the advertising market on social media.”

• Establish a digital Atlantic Charter, which would “demonstrate the UK’s commitment to protecting and supporting users, and establish a formal basis for collaboration with the US.”

The interim report, the committee says, is intended to set out areas in which it feels that urgent action needs to be taken. A further, more substantive report is set to be released this fall.

“Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions,” DCSM concludes.