UK threatens Facebook, Twitter with sanctions in ‘fake news’ probe


LONDON Dec 29 (TNS): The UK Parliament has threatened Facebook and Twitter with sanctions if the social media giants fail to provide necessary information in the probe in Russian meddling in the EU referendum, local media reported.

The two companies have until January 18 to provide details regarding Russian interference and spreading of misinformation, Damian Collins, chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee, said.

The committee is investigating the matter and had previously asked Facebook and Twitter to provide detailed information regarding the Russian campaign, including details of the accounts and pages propagating fake news.

The two companies failed to provide the necessary details and instead provided in early December a copy of the information “they had provided the Electoral Commission in response to a much narrower query about advertising spend from Russia during the six weeks leading up to the vote”.

“What I didn’t expect was they would essentially completely ignore our request,” Collins said, calling their response “extraordinary”.

“They don’t believe that they have any obligation at all to initiate their own investigation into what may or may not have been happening on the site – to look at the accounts that have been identified by the American authorities and say: OK, are there other accounts that share similar characteristics that could have come from the same source? They’ve not done any of that work at all.”

Collins said that “there has to be a way of scrutinising the procedures that companies like Facebook put in place to help them identify known sources of disinformation, particularly when it’s politically motivated and coming from another country.”

“They need to be able to tell us what they can do about it. And what we need to be able to do is say to the companies: we recognise that you are best placed to monitor what is going on your own site and to get the balance right in taking action against it but also safeguarding the privacy of users.

The lawmaker said that social media giants need to be told that “if you fail to do that, if you ignore requests to act, if you fail to police the site effectively and deal with highly problematic content, then there has to be some sort of sanction against you.”

Facebook and Twitter have come under fire for doing little to address an onslaught of fake news on the platforms during the EU referendum as well as US elections. The companies have, however, repeatedly claimed to be clamping down on the trend. In May, Facebook said it will to send more potential hoax articles to third-party fact checkers and show their findings below the original post.