The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee has published its final report on “Disinformation and ‘fake news’” [pdf] after an inquiry lasting 18 months.

The report calls for:

  • A compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies overseen by independent regulator
  • A regulator given powers to launch legal action against companies breaching code
  • The Government to reform current electoral communications laws and rules on overseas involvement in UK elections
  • Social media companies obliged to take down known sources of harmful content, including proven sources of disinformation

The report also found that current electoral law is ‘not fit for purpose’ and that Facebook intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws.

The Chair of the Committee, Damian Collins MP said

“We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people. The age of inadequate self regulation must come to an end. The rights of the citizen need to be established in statute, by requiring the tech companies to adhere to a code of conduct written into law by Parliament, and overseen by an independent regulator”.

Commenting the need for social media companies to be regulated the director of Hacked Off, Kyle Taylor, commented

“Both newspaper publishers and social media platforms have been responsible for the spread of harm and disinformation, which has the effect of undermining democracy. Independent regulation is essential to ensure the public is adequately protected from the unethical and damaging activities of elements of both industries – yet presently, neither are regulated. The public deserve adequate recourse as is already true with almost every other sector from energy suppliers to broadcast media“.

On the risk of a “double standard” between print news and news shared on social media, he added,

“Social media regulation must come hand-in-hand with implementation of the Leveson recommendations on how to ensure a free and independent press, to ensure newspapers are incentivised to join an independent self-regulator. Without independent press regulation, a double-standard will be created, with zero regulation for the print editions of newspapers alongside statutory regulation for the same titles’ online editions which are shared on social media.

Sky News has reported that the Government is planning to make social networks liable for the content on their platforms but will stop short of giving them the same liability as traditional publishers.  It is suggested that the proposals, which are likely to be announced within the next few weeks will include a “duty of care” but will be designed to be consistent with the ECommerce Directive.