UK digital committee report slams Facebook

The report states that the social media company has repeatedly breached privacy and competition laws, and also directs the parliament to impose statutory regulations on social media platforms

February 21, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
The report accused Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, of contempt of parliament for repeatedly declining to appear before the committee (Photo: AFP)

On February 18, the UK parliamentary committee published their 8th report on online disinformation and fake news, in which they slammed social media network Facebook for deliberately breaking privacy and competition laws and should urgently be subject to statutory regulation. The 108-page report, prepared by the UK Parliament Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, was tabled after 18 months of investigation.

The final report said that the inquiry was based and built on the main issues highlighted in the interim report of the committee prepared in July 2018. The issues included the definition, role and legal liabilities of social media platforms, data misuse and targeting (based around Facebook), the Cambridge Analytica and Aggregate IQ allegations, political campaigning, Russian influence in political campaigns, the influence of Strategic Communication Laboratories in foreign elections, and digital literacy. The interim report also included evidence about Facebook’s knowledge of, and participation in, data-sharing from documents that the committee obtained from the tech company, Six4Three.

“Social media companies cannot hide behind the claim of being merely a ‘platform’ and maintain that they have no responsibility themselves in regulating the content of their sites,” the parliamentary report said.

According to The Guardian, the report accused Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, of being in contempt of parliament for refusing three separate demands to give evidence, and instead sending junior employees who were unable to answer the committee’s questions. It highlighted that the existing electoral law in UK is vulnerable to interference by hostile foreign actors, including agents of the Russian government, attempting to discredit democracy. The report suggested the British government to establish an independent investigation into “foreign influence, disinformation, funding, voter manipulation and the sharing of data” in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 European Union referendum and the 2017 general elections.

Earlier in 2018, Facebook was also accused in the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It was found that the latter had harvested personal data of millions of people through their Facebook profiles, without their consent, and used it for political purposes, especially the 2016 US presidential elections.

But, meanwhile, an anonymous hacker exposed a project run by the firm, Integrity Initiative, for planting disinformation about the alleged “Russian influence” through journalist ‘clusters’ throughout Europe and the US. Since November 5, 2018, in three episodes, the hacker revealed that the British government had financed Integrity Initiative to spread anti-Russia propaganda and, thereby, influence the public, military and governments of a number of countries. The firm was also found to be involved in smear campaigns against major opposition political figures in the UK, including Jeremy Corbyn.