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MPs criticise Government over 'disappointing' response to 'fake news' inquiry interim report

MPs behind the UK’s “fake news” inquiry have said they are “disappointed” with the Government’s response to their interim report after it accepted just three of the 42 recommendations made.

The Government also rejected four recommendations and gave no response to nine others made in the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee report, published in July this year.

The report warned that democracy is facing a crisis brought about by “campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate” targeted at citizens and expressed fears about Russian interference in UK elections.

It also recommended:

  • A new category for defining a tech company be created that is neither publisher nor platform
  • A ban on micro-targeted political adverts
  • A levy to fund a “comprehensive media educational framework”
  • To swap the term ‘fake news’ for “misinformation” and “disinformation”.

DCMS Committee chairman Damian Collins said: “The Government’s response to our interim report on disinformation and ‘fake news’ is disappointing and a missed opportunity.

“It uses other ongoing investigations to further delay desperately needed announcements on the ongoing issues of harmful and misleading content being spread through social media.

“We need to see a more co-ordinated approach across government to combat campaigns of disinformation being organised by Russian agencies seeking to disrupt and undermine our democracy.

“The Government’s response gives us no real indication of what action is being taken on this important issue.”

The committee’s final report on “fake news” is expected in December.

It said it was disappointed that the Government provided no response to its recommendation that Facebook take responsibility for the way its platform is used.

In its response, the Government said it had moved away from using the term “fake news”, instead referring to “disinformation” and “online manipulation”, in-line with committee recommendations.

It also said it agreed “with the spirit” of suggestions more regulation should be placed on platforms, but rejected a levy on tech firms for the funding of digital literacy education.

It claimed it had “not seen evidence of successful use of disinformation” by foreign actors looking to sway UK elections”.

However, it recognised that hate speech and disinformation published on Facebook and other social media platforms had led to violence against the Rohingya population in Myanmar (formerly Burma), claiming it was pushing social media firms to remove harmful and illegal content.   

Responding to the proposal for a new form of tech company, the Government said: “As the Prime Minister announced in January 2018, we are looking at the legal liability that social media companies have for illegal and harmful content shared on their sites.

“This is an important issue and we look forward to engaging with important stakeholders such as the committee, to hear their views and to inform our ideas as we develop proposals to take this forward.

“It is vital we approach this carefully, to ensure any decision is future proofed, does not damage unduly the UK’s vibrant tech industry, and fulfils our manifesto commitment to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.”

On the Cairncross Review, the Government urged Dame Frances Cairncross to consider the fake news inquiry report as part of her review into the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the digital age.

Responding to the committee, a Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport spokesperson said: “We have considered the committee’s interim report carefully. Our response outlines ongoing work across government to counter disinformation.

“We look forward to reviewing the final report later this year. Our White Paper, to be published this winter, will set out a range of proposals focused on making the internet a safer place.”

Picture: Pixabay

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