Fake news inquiry to review social networks' complaints procedures

MPs will examine whether new offences should be created after Facebook’s failure to remove sexualised images of children

A parliamentary inquiry into fake news is to consider legislation forcing social networks to improve the way they handle complaints after Facebook’s failure to remove sexualised images of children.

Damian Collins, chair of the culture, media and sport (CMS) committee, said Facebook’s failure to remove all the images reported, as part of a BBC investigation this week, was “disturbing” and suggested its complaints systems were inadequate.

His committee will examine whether new offences should be created to ensure social networks are held responsible for inappropriate content, including fake news as well as images of children which have been reported.

“Should there be an offence [for a failure] to act on a referral?” he told the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday. “That would create a massive incentive.”

Collins, a former advertising executive, also said the committee was considering incentives to discourage ads from being associated with such content. “Advertisers should say we won’t spend the money with you unless you use it the right way,” he said.

Damian Collins, chairman of the culture, media and sport committee.
Damian Collins, chairman of the culture, media and sport committee. Photograph: Kirsty O'Connor/PA

“If you place a press ad, the editor is responsible for the content. The newspaper accepts responsibility for the content it prints. Why shouldn’t these rules apply to social media as well? Facebook is the principal paid-for tool for political communication.”

Collins said it was in the technology companies’ “interest to get their house in order”. “If their sites are full of fake news, bullying … people will go to other sites.”

Tech firms such as Facebook were in danger of becoming “antisocial networks” by failing to take responsibility for some of the most controversial content appearing on their sites, he said.

“Facebook was in breach of its own community policy,” he said of its decision to remove just 18 of 100 images flagged by a BBC reporter. “Are regular users bringing complaints not being looked at?”

Concerns over the rise of fake news as well as failure to act on complaints suggested the technology industry had to act, he said.

“Facebook is a major media platform … Just to say this is a technology platform isn’t good enough anymore … Social media is a mature industry that takes the lion’s share of advertising,” Collins said.

“If we reach a tipping point where the level and virality of fake news is such it is crowding out [real] news it is a challenge to democracy.”

Google and Facebook are expected to be questioned by Collins and the CMS committee as part of its inquiry into fake news this spring.

Collins, a Conservative MP, also criticised Donald Trump’s use of the term fake news to describe “any news organisation he dislikes … To label that fake news is a particularly pernicious act,” he said.


Jane Martinson and Jasper Jackson

The GuardianTramp

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