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Facebook can no longer govern itself, UK lawmakers say

Facebook can no longer govern itself, UK lawmakers say


Parliament has finished its 18-month long investigation

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facebook should no longer be allowed to govern itself and it’s time for the government to step in as the cop on the beat, according to a new parliamentary report released tonight by the United Kingdom.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee of the UK Parliament has published its final report after more than 18 months of investigation into Facebook and its privacy practices. Members of Parliament (MPs) have requested that social media companies be required to remove “harmful” or “illegal” content on their platforms and be held liable for it according to a compulsory code of ethics, a policy that has been hotly contested in the US.

This new report lays the groundwork for further legislation that could officially codify these requests into law. “Our inquiry over the last year has identified three big threats to our society,” Damian Collins, DCMS chair who has led this investigation said. “The challenge for the year ahead is to start to fix them; we cannot delay any longer.”

“Democracy is at risk”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The committee also requested that the government reform some of its own laws involving political advertising and asks that it further investigate foreign influences in political campaigns.

“Among the countless innocuous postings of celebrations and holiday snaps, some malicious forces use Facebook to threaten and harass others, to publish revenge porn, to disseminate hate speech and propaganda of all kinds, and to influence elections and democratic processes,” the report says. “Much of which Facebook, and other social media companies, are either unable or unwilling to prevent.”

In the committee’s interim report last summer, it called for a code of ethics in which all tech companies would agree to uphold. After months of contentious parliamentary inquiries, the committee now recommends an even stronger measure, requesting that platforms be subject to a Compulsory Code of Ethics that would be overseen by an independent regulator. According to the MPs, that regulator should have the ability to pursue legal action if companies like Facebook refused to remove the unlawful content.

This same public body, according to the lawmakers, should be given statutory powers that would allow it to obtain any information from social media platforms that could be relevant to any inquiries. These authorities could range from being allowed access into algorithms or security mechanisms.

The committee was personally critical of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has refused public requests to answer the members’ questions, per the report. “Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to the billions of Facebook users across the world,” the committee wrote. “Mark Zuckerberg continually fails 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.”

Last week, it was reported that a US regulatory body, the Federal Trade Commission, is in negotiations with Facebook to levy a multi-billion dollar fine as a consequence of its deceptive privacy practices following Cambridge Analytica scandal. Now, it appears the UK is preparing to take its own measures to rein in the platform’s power.

“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,” Collins said.