UK: Parliament to grill Facebook chiefs over 'fake news'

Parliament to grill Facebook chiefs over 'fake news'

Executives at Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to be called into Parliament and grilled on whether they are doing enough to stop the trend.

By Ben Riley-Smith, assistant political editor 14 JANUARY 2017 • 10:15PM

An inquiry into “fake news” is set to be launched by an influential cross-party committee of MPs within months amid fears the phenomenon is undermining democracy.

Executives at Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to be called into Parliament and grilled on whether they are doing enough to stop the trend.

The Commons Culture Committee is discussing launching the inquiry internally and hopes it can begin holding sessions by late spring or early summer. 

Damian Collins, the Tory chairman of the committee, told the Telegraph he fears “malicious” fake news is especially damaging around elections.

He suggested social media platforms should be obliged to ensure such content is not shared widely in the same way they have to clamp down on piracy.

It emerged on Saturday that ministers have asked to talk about the issue with figures from News Media Association, a body which represents national, regional and local news media organisations.

Matt Hancock, the digital and culture minister, is expected to hold a round-table discussion on the topic amid growing concern about fake news in the industry.

It came to prominence during the US election campaign when reports about Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton went viral online, only later to be proved false.

Critics warned the pieces were often being produced by companies looking to make money through online clicks or political campaigners seeking to damage a candidate.

There are now calls for internet giants like Facebook and Twitter to do more to stop fake news circulating amid concerns it influenced how some people voted in the US election.

This newspaper has learnt that concerns have reached such heights in Britain that an influential cross-party committee is on the brink of announcing a formal inquiry.

Mr Collins said: “Some fake news is presented to look like real news coming from real news websites. It can be difficult to distinguish between them.

“The concern is a fake story can get out and be distributed on the internet and become the received wisdom before the truth can get out. The truth is always trying to catch up with a fake news story.”

He said that “clearly” some fake news is being distributed “maliciously” and questioned whether social media companies were doing enough to combat this.

“What’s interesting is we've accepted that search engines have a responsibility to combat piracy on their websites,” Mr Collins said.

“In a similar way, I think social media [companies] have a responsibility to ensure their platforms are not being used to spread malicious content.

“Particularly around elections there is a responsibility to democracy as well to ensure their platforms aren’t being perverted to support the distribution of fake and malicious news.”

Mr Trump has recently attacked as “fake news” reports by CNN and Buzzfeeddiscussing an unverified intelligence dossier about his links to Russia which contained sordid allegations.

Michael Dugher, the Labour MP and former shadow culture secretary, has already launched an inquiry for his party into how “false” news stories circulate online.

He recently wrote: “The only people who have anything to fear from this inquiry are those who are deliberately spreading stories they know to be untrue or those who are turning a blind eye to it.

“We have a responsibility to stand up for good journalism everywhere. It is an essential part of our free speech and our democracy.”



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