Westminster panel on Facebook threats to democracy calls for cross-committee inquiry into interference in EU referendum

Molly who this week chaired a Westminster event on the impacts of Facebook on democracy, has supported a call from the meeting for a cross-committee inquiry into Facebook interference in the EU referendum campaign. The suggestion was received positively by Damian Collins MP, the chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Committee (DCMS), who was part of the high-profile panel at the event. He confirmed that such a cross-committee inquiry could be possible and might be co-convened with the Home Affairs committee.

The panel also included award-winning journalist Carole Cadwalladr and whistleblower Shahmir Sanni, and the event coincided with the publication of Molly’s new report ‘Facing Down Facebook’. This documents the ways in which Facebook has been involved in abuses of personal data for political purposes and manipulation of electoral outcomes. The recommendations contained in the report mirror many of those in the recent DCMS report on ‘fake news.’

Collins was questioned at the meeting on whether there was a parliamentary process for investigating the influence of foreign actors in UK elections. Molly said:

“Damian Collins, who has already produced an excellent report on disinformation in his role as chair of the DCMS committee, agreed on the importance of a thorough parliamentary investigation into Russian and other interference in the EU referendum. I think it is essential that we know exactly what influence Putin had on the referendum before we go ahead with the momentous decision to leave the EU.”

An appeal made by Molly at the meeting for a new citizens movement to safeguard democracy from social media platforms was warmly received. She said:

“As well as the parliamentary and legislative route to controlling social media platforms we also need a new citizen’s movement to challenge giant tech firms and explore ways to protect citizens from abuses of personal data, dark money and hidden ads. These are all severely undermining our democracy.”

Carole Cadwalladr told the meeting:

“Why should we allow Facebook to get away with this? This is a foreign company that has played a pivotal role in our elections and is unaccountable to our parliament. I hope one day we will look back upon this era and see that we were sleepwalking but eventually managed to legislate and protect ourselves, because at the moment we are incredibly vulnerable.”

Shahmir Sanni called for users to be able to ‘take back control’. He said:

“The way we look at Facebook needs to revert back to the idea that we are the product and we need to take back control of our identities and data. Facebook has become as integral as water or electricity which is why just like those services you need regulation; you need to view it as our right not Facebook’s.”

Following yesterday’s meeting in Westminster, Molly has also called for the process of leaving the EU to be suspended, following further revelations about the involvement of Russian money in the Brexit campaign.  She wants Article 50 extended until the National Crime Agency has had time to report on their investigations into alleged multiple criminal offences by Arron Banks; the extent of Russian involvement is more clearly understood; and until we know if leaving the EU is still the will of the British people.

Molly concluded:

“To proceed with Brexit at this stage, with everything we now know about the dark forces that influenced the referendum, would be to undermine UK and EU democracy. Critically, there is still much we don’t know about outside interference on the result. Three years on it is also clear that the will of the people has changed and a majority no longer support Brexit.” 

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