Tech Firms Should Be Made Liable for ‘Fake News’ on Sites, Say UK Lawmakers

July 28, 2018 Last Updated: July 28, 2018

Tech firms like Facebook should be made liable for “harmful and misleading” material on their websites and pay a levy so they can be regulated, British lawmakers said, warning of a crisis in democracy due to misuse of personal data.

Facebook has increasingly become a focus of the UK Parliament media committee’s inquiry into “fake news” after the data of 87 million users was improperly accessed by British-headquartered consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

“We are facing nothing less than a crisis in our democracy – based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens … by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate,” Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said in a statement.

The cost of higher privacy standards will hit Facebook’s profit margins for several years, the firm said on Wednesday, wiping over $120 billion off its share price, and the company is coming under concerted regulatory scrutiny in Britain, the United States, and the European Union.

“Companies like Facebook made it easy for developers to scrape user data and to deploy it in other campaigns without their knowledge or consent,” “They must be made responsible, and liable, for the way in which harmful and misleading content is shared on their sites,” Collins said.

The committee’s interim report and Collins’s comments were embargoed until July 29. Other news organizations broke the embargo after a copy of the report was published online by Dominic Cummings, who ran the officially designated Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum.

The standards of accuracy and impartiality which tech companies are held to could be based on regulator Ofcom’s rules for television and radio, the lawmakers said.

The committee’s report also suggested a levy on tech firms which could contribute to an increased budget for Britain’s data regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), in the way in which the banking sector pays for the upkeep of its watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority.

The ICO earlier this month fined Facebook for the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The committee’s full report is due in the autumn.