UK MPs seek social media curbs to fight fake news
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UK MPs seek social media curbs to fight fake news

Seeking to define ‘fake news’, a report noted that the term became widely used in 2016, notably by US President Donald Trump, “to describe content published by established news providers that they dislike or disagree with, but is more widely applied to various types of false information”.

world Updated: Jul 29, 2018 14:55 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Fake news,Social media,UK
(Representative image)

Calling the proliferation of ‘fake news’ a crisis for democracy, an influential committee of British parliamentarians wants regulators to “build resilience against misinformation and disinformation” to protect the integrity of institutions.

Following an 18-month investigation into fake news, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee is set to publish its report on Sunday, but it was leaked on Saturday, with its contents widely published. The report adds to growing demands for tougher regulation of social media companies.

The committee’s investigation looked into the issues and events related to the Cambridge Analytica data theft controversy, including in India, among others. It took evidence from key individuals, including whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, and former Cambridge Analytica chief executive Alexander Nix.

Calling it one of the many potential threats to democracy, the report described fake news as “created for profit or other gain, disseminated through state-sponsored programmes, or spread through the deliberate distortion of facts, by groups with a particular agenda, including the desire to affect political elections.”

“Such has been the impact of this agenda, the focus of our inquiry moved from understanding the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, distributed largely through social media, to issues concerning the very future of democracy”.

Highlighting significant concerns about political manipulation, the committee chaired by Conservative MP Damien Collins said: “Our democracy is at risk, and now is the time to act, to protect our shared values and the integrity of our democratic institutions”.

Witnesses informed the committee that India was one of the countries where CA and its affiliated company, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL) had worked in political campaigns.

“The work of SCL and its associates in foreign countries involved unethical and dangerous work, and we have heard worrying accounts of SCL employees being put in grave danger,” the report said.

“Paul Oliver Dehaye described the work that Dan Muresan, an employee of SCL, had to do, while employed by SCL: ‘He was working for Congress, according to reports from India, but he was really paid for by an Indian billionaire who wanted Congress to lose. He was pretending to work for one party but was really paid underhand by someone else’.”

Seeking to define ‘fake news’, the report noted that the term became widely used in 2016, notably by US President Donald Trump, “to describe content published by established news providers that they dislike or disagree with, but is more widely applied to various types of false information”.

The ‘types of false information’, the report says, includes content that is fabricated, manipulated, imposter and misleading; and false context of connection, and satire and parody; besides what is calls relentless prevalence of micro-targeted messaging, which may distort people’s views and opinions.

The report concludes: “Electoral law needs to be updated to reflect changes in campaigning techniques, and the move from physical leaflets and billboards to online, micro-targeted political campaigning, as well as the many digital subcategories covered by paid and organic campaigning.”

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’, claiming that they are tech companies and have no role themselves in regulating the content of their sites. That is not the case; they continually change what is and is not seen on their sites, based on algorithms and human intervention”.

First Published: Jul 29, 2018 14:55 IST