UK lawmakers call for increased regulation of Facebook et al

Facebook has stoked the ire of British lawmakers who at the weekend said the social network has “intentionally and knowingly violated both data privacy and anti-competition laws” in the UK.

This comes as part of a report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee in the UK Parliament which has been investigating the spread of misinformation online as well as Facebook since 2017.

The investigation culminated in the publishing of a 111-page report which calls for regulation of Facebook in the UK among other things.

“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. We repeat the recommendation from our Interim Report that a new category of tech company is formulated, which tightens tech companies’ liabilities, and which is not necessarily either a ‘platform’ or a ‘publisher’. This approach would see the tech companies assume legal liability for content identified as harmful after it has been posted by users,” the report reads.

Among the myriad issues highlighted by the committee is that of education. Simply put, folks might not be aware whether content on Facebook is factual or not. As the Parliamentary committee points out, internet users both young and old need to be equipped with skills which can be used to weed out the good from the bad online.

The big question we have however is, is this Facebook’s job?

We’re acutely aware that the problems Facebook has caused for itself are its own but is educating folks about how to be critical of information online really the social network’s job?

With that having been said, Facebook is seemingly already taking that mantle upon itself.

Last week we saw Facebook highlight how it will fight misinformation on the platform during African elections. The firm has made an effort to fix the mess that it claimed partial responsibility for causing in Myanmar. Facebook has established a dedicated team to deal with the spread of misinformation and hate in that country following an investigation.

The privacy of the masses

Education is but one of Facebook’s woes in the UK. The Parliamentary committee also raised the issue of data privacy.

Here the committee pointed out Facebook’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal of 2018.

“The Cambridge Analytica scandal was facilitated by Facebook’s policies. If it had fully complied with the FTC settlement, it would not have happened. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Complaint of 2011 ruled against Facebook—for not protecting users’ data and for letting app developers gain as much access to user data as they liked, without restraint—and stated that Facebook built their company in a way that made data abuses easy. When asked about Facebook’s failure to act on the FTC’s complaint, Elizabeth Denham, the Information Commissioner, told us: “I am very disappointed that Facebook, being such an innovative company, could not have put more focus, attention and resources into protecting people’s data”. We are equally disappointed,” the report states.

The crux of the report is that Facebook and social media sites in general are seemingly incapable of governing themselves in respect of legal requirements at the very least.

Will this inspire change? Perhaps, but we feel that – as the committee points out – this requires updated laws.
The fact of the matter is that social media firms have been pegging themselves as publishers for the longest time and perhaps it’s time for that to change.

Whether it will however, remains to be seen.

You can find the full report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee here.

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