Facebook in fake news storm
There’s been no shortage of coverage regarding the various misdemeanours of Facebook, from the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal, to deceptive reports of user activity in order to make the platform look more valuable to advertisers, to the subsequent tumbling shares and falling user numbers as more and more people become disenfranchised by the digital heavyweights.
The tabloids, and indeed most people, can’t seem to stay away from reports about Facebook as the company struggles to manoeuvre privacy regulations and calls from government officials for more clarity when using the platform.
The latest blow for Facebook comes after an 18-month investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee which has left MP’s calling for ‘tough and urgent action’ to address the spread of disinformation on the platform, which the committee goes as far to describe as a risk to UK democracy.
Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee’s chairman, Damian Collins, said: “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.”
The committee’s investigation looked at internal communication from inside Facebook surrounding a lawsuit from app developer tech company, Six4Three, among other things.
The communication included a number of emails which came directly from Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. The content of the emails, according to the committee, show that Facebook "intentionally and knowingly" violated both data privacy and competition laws, with the power of the social media platform able to "starve" some app developers of data and force them out of business.
As well as this, it was found that Facebook is ‘able and willing’ to override its users' privacy settings in order to transfer data to developers. "Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the report said. Collins went on to accuse Mark Zuckerberg of “continually failing to show the levels of leadership and personal responsibility that should be expected from someone who sits at the top of one of the world's biggest companies."
In order to put a stop to these kinds of actions, and those seen during the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the committee believes that social media platforms should be subject to a compulsory code of ethics, regulated by an independent UK supervisory body which should have the power to launch legal proceedings against them. As well as this it has called for a "comprehensive audit" of the advertising market on social media, and an investigation on whether Facebook has been involved in anti-competitive practices.
Finally the committee suggest an examination of recent elections for evidence of voter manipulation. This is unsurprising when we remember that the data relating to the Cambridge Analytica case was then used to influence political results by using profiling techniques to target ads at certain users.
It’s hard to disagree with the findings of the investigation by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, and its suggested actions. Nor does it seem wild to suggest that platforms like Facebook are a threat to our democracy. With users susceptible to taking in targeted information unknowingly, this could seriously swing public votes on way or the other.