New Facebook report documenting spread of disinformation comes hot on the heels of DCMS select committee report

Click on image for details about the reportFollowing on from this week’s report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee which denounces Facebook and its executives as “digital gangsters”, a new report documenting the role of Facebook in abuses of personal data for political purposes will be launched this Thursday in the European Parliament. A panel at the launch will include Julian King, the EU commissioner for security; Prof David Carroll, the American professor who took legal action against Facebook; and Dr Emma Briant, senior lecturer in journalism who specialises in research on media, political communication and propaganda. 

The report, commissioned by Molly catalogues the way the social media giant has spread disinformation, focusing particularly on its influence in the EU referendum campaign in 2016. It takes Facebook to task over its ‘consistent lies to the public and to regulators in order to conceal or misrepresent the ongoing abuses to which it has been party’. The report concludes that social media platforms such as Facebook cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, and makes some key policy recommendations.

Commenting on the report, Molly said:

“Facebook is the social network turned antisocial network. It was supposed to bring us closer together but now stands accused of stealing our imaginations, fostering social divisions, inciting self-harm and failing to control hate speech, extremism or pornography. All serious and deeply concerning accusations, but the most destructive singular impact of Facebook is its impact on democracy.

“From voter suppression ads used during the 2016 US Presidential election, to the deceitful propaganda used to persuade British people to vote for Brexit, and on to the WhatsApp lies that enabled Bolsonaro to become president of Brazil, Facebook is being used to undermine democratic standards across the world.

“It is clear that Facebook has neither the will nor the humility to reform itself. Regulation is long overdue and urgent especially in view of the fact that the UK may soon hold a People’s Vote and the whole of the EU will soon be holding elections to the European Parliament.

“This report catalogues the appalling and destructive behaviour of Facebook, but also includes some important policy recommendations on how to regulate this social media monster. It is no exaggeration to say that the survival of our democracies depends on implementing such measures.”

The report has also received the backing of Labour MEPs. Claude Moraes, who is Chair of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) will attend the launch event. He said:

“The practice of gathering and selling our information is nothing new. Companies are carrying out the same practices in order to create algorithms for targeted advertising. But it is now becoming increasingly clear that this data gathering has implications, not just for conventional economic advertising, but that it can also be used for social or political manipulation, including influence by foreign actors. This is a global issue that has affected elections throughout the world, not least, the Presidential elections in the US and the Brexit referendum.

“Following last year’s investigation by the LIBE Committee, and follow-up resolution of the European Parliament, which made clear that we expect measures to be taken to protect citizens’ right to private life, data protection and freedom of expression, this new report provides further evidence that more action is needed to protect our elections.

“Improvements have been made since the scandal, but, as continuing data breaches at Facebook show, these do not go far enough. It is clear that there should be much greater accountability and transparency on algorithmic-processed data by any actor, be it private or public, to prevent the risk of secret profiling and discrimination, and resolve the questions surrounding the role of social media in interference in our elections.

“Facebook is now on notice that it cannot continue to undermine the trust citizens place, not only in our online platforms, but our democracy itself. Action must be taken to protect our elections and citizens’ right to private life, and if Facebook doesn’t like it then they should know that we don’t like interference and disruption of our elections either.”

The proposed regulatory measures in the report include standard default “no sharing of personal data with other organisations” privacy settings; all political advertisements to include information on the sponsor, the amount spent on it and the basis on which any targeting was carried out; and a requirement by social media companies to verify the identities of all their users before accepting them onto their platforms to prevent automated posts by non-human agents.

Notes

A UK event will also be held in the House of Commons on Tuesday March 5th February in the Attlee Room, 07:30 – 09:00. An impressive panel will include Carole Cadwalladr, Damian Collins MP and Shahmir Sanni. This event is open to journalists and the general public and details can be found here.

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