‘Our democracy is at risk’: UK politicians recommend radical new approach to Facebook

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc, has been under a lot of pressure lately. Picture: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

BRITISH politicians believe the country is facing a “democratic crisis” caused by the manipulation of personal data by social media giants like Facebook.

Ministers are blaming Facebook for allowing users to be targeted with misinformation and fake news, saying the social media giant has profiteered from destabilising public discourse and spreading hate.

In a scathing report by a parliamentary committee, UK politicians are recommending a tough new stance on the social media giant, including the introduction of a levy on tech giants like Facebook which would be used to hire technical experts to police the service and could be used to fund educational campaigns in digital literacy and other initiatives to combat the threat of fake news.

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

The interim report by the House of Commons’ media committee, officially released on Sunday in the UK, said democracy is facing a crisis because the combination of data analysis and social media allows campaigns to target voters with messages of hate without their consent.

Tech giants like Facebook, which operate in a largely unregulated environment, are complicit because they haven’t done enough to protect personal information and remove harmful content, the committee said.

“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,” committee Chairman Damian Collins said in a statement.

Collins ripped Facebook for allowing Russian agencies to use its platform to spread disinformation and influence elections.

“I believe what we have discovered so far is the tip of the iceberg,” he said, adding that more work needs to be done to expose how fake accounts target people during elections. “The ever-increasing sophistication of these campaigns, which will soon be helped by developments in augmented reality technology, make this an urgent necessity.”

The report recommended a more heavy-handed approach when it came to enforcing the rules under which social media companies operated.

They can no longer avoid oversight by describing themselves as platforms, because they use technology to filter and shape the information users see, the report said. Nor are they publishers, since that model traditionally commissions and pays for content.

“We recommend that a new category of tech company is formulated, which tightens tech companies’ liabilities, and which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher,” the report said.

If it comes to pass, it would mark a significant change for Facebook and other tech giants like Google who have benefited form the lack of strict regulations during their rise.