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Facebook failed

The DCMS select committee’s far-reaching interim report on its 18-month investigation into fake news and the use of data and “dark ads” in elections offers a wide-ranging, informed and sustained critique that carries with it the full weight of parliament. The verdict is withering: Facebook failed.

It “obfuscated”, refused to investigate how its platform was abused by the Russian government until forced by pressure from Senate committees and, in the most damning section, it aided and abetted the incitement of racial hatred in Burma, noting that even the company’s chief technical officer, Mike Schroepfer, called this “awful”.

Recommendations include:

• “Clear legal liability” for tech companies “to act against harmful and illegal content” with failure to act resulting in criminal proceedings.

• Full auditing and scrutiny of tech companies, including their security mechanisms, and full algorithm auditing. Strengthen the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). Impose a levy on tech companies operating in the UK to pay for it. The Competition and Markets Authority should investigate fake profiles and advertising fraud.

• A ban on micro-targeted political advertising to similar audiences.

• A “new category of tech company” to be formulated which “tightens tech companies’ liabilities and which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or ‘publisher’”.

• Sweeping new powers for the Electoral Commission and a comprehensive overhaul of existing legislation that governs political advertisements during elections.

• A further demand for Mark Zuckerberg “to come to the committee to answer questions to which Facebook has not responded adequately to date”.

• A code of ethics that all tech companies will agree to uphold.