The European Publishers Council (EPC) welcomes the UK Parliament’s newly-published report “Disinformation and ‘Fake News’ by the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Committee which calls for clear legal liabilities to be established for tech companies to act against harmful or illegal content on their sites.
In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and hot on the tail of the Cairncross report that calls for statutory regulation for the tech platforms, this report proposes a new definition for tech platforms that is neither “publisher” nor “tech platform” but that is subject to an independent regulator, setting out what constitutes harmful content and with the statutory power to monitor relevant tech companies.
EPC’s Executive Director Angela Mills Wade said: “The damning findings of this report, after months of forensic and rigorous investigation, demand immediate action and statutory intervention if our fundamental freedoms and democracy are to be protected. Reliance on voluntary codes, such as the one at EU level on Disinformation, is no longer an option. This report proves beyond doubt that legal liabilities are needed urgently so that tech companies, whose predatory and unscrupulous behaviour threatens the future of our independent press as well as society at large, act against harmful or illegal content on their sites.”
The report calls for:
- Compulsory Code of Ethics for tech companies overseen by independent regulator
- Regulator given powers to launch legal action against companies breaching code
- 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 concludes that:
- Electoral law is ‘not fit for purpose’
- Facebook has intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws
Angela continued: “This report is a damning indictment of the internet wild west. Society needs to comprehend the harm that is being done to our fundamental freedoms and democracy, and governments need to act to protect them. We join Damian Collins, MP, in calling for urgent action to tackle the monopolistic tech giants to prevent electoral fraud, protect our privacy and protect the vulnerable from online harm”.
In a statement, Damian Collins MP, Chair of the DCMS Committee says:
“Our inquiry over the last year has identified three big threats to our society. The challenge for the year ahead is to start to fix them; we cannot delay any longer.
“Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised ‘dark adverts’ from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day. Much of this is directed from agencies working in foreign countries, including Russia.
“The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights.
“Companies like Facebook exercise massive market power which enables them to make money by bullying the smaller technology companies and developers who rely on this platform to reach their customers.
The Committee calls for the Government to include concrete proposals for action in its forthcoming White Paper on online harms.
The final report can be found here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/digital-culture-media-and-sport-committee/news/fake-news-report-published-17-19/
For further information about the work of the DCMS Committee:
Information about the EU Code of Practice on Disinformation: