Westminster final report, still waiting for final answers from Facebook

Today, the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the House of Commons will release its final report on disinformation and “fake news”, concluding an 18 months inquiry. The report will call on the government to launch an independent investigation into foreign interference in British elections since 2014, amid documents showing data mishandling in the context of Brexit referendum. MPs require more transparency in the digital sphere, especially from big tech companies, naming Facebook and its data-sharing business model. The report envisages a new compulsory code of ethics enforced by an independent regulator with statutory powers to launch legal action against Facebook, Google and other social media giants.

The aforementioned Committee has been leading a coalition of elected representatives of 8 countries as an “International Grand Committee”, to promote further cross-border co-operation in tackling the spread of disinformation.

Only the truth, nothing but the truth

Ten European and American personalities (among them former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Dutch ALDE MEP Marietje Schaake and former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen) have released a pledge aimed at countering foreign interference in the next European Elections. The document urges those running for office to promise not to use stolen or falsified data, not to spread doctored audio or video material, to disclose the use of bots in campaigns, to train staff in cybersecurity, and to make campaign financing public. Politico reported that the Spitzenkandidaten of five European party groups have already signed the pledge.

On the same topic, former Facebook public policy Alexander Mäkelä released a guide on tools and best practices for civic engagement on social media, directed to candidates.

To be consumed with moderation

France plans to release a law on hate speech moderation and online harassment. A law strengthening the obligations of social networks in this area will be presented before the end of the first semester. The government is still drafting its copy, but it is already possible to discern the contours of this future text: they are reflected in the action plan of the government against hate in online content, published on Thursday by digital Minister Mounir Mahjoubi. This law would facilitate the reporting of “explicitly illicit content”, that might be put under quarantine. The law might as well introduce a mandatory delay for removal of illicit content as well as an appeal mechanism. A new regulator over online content might also be created. A task force involving several regulators and ministerial experts is currently conducting a collaborative mission with Facebook that might be expanded with other platforms. Even if the project only concerns hate speech, let’s figure out if this law might also be considered as an appropriate regulation to tackle disinformation online content.

Moldova fake story 

Earlier last week, Facebook took down 168 Facebook accounts, 28 Pages and eight Instagram accounts for engaging in coordinated inauthentic behaviour targeting people in Moldova. The pages posted about local news and political issues such as required Russian or English language education and reunification with Romania. They also shared manipulated photos, divisive narratives and satire and impersonated a local fact checking organization’s Page that called out other Pages for spreading fake news. Some of these activities might be linked to employees of the Moldovan government. This campaign happens just when the parliamentary elections will be held on February 28 in the country


Calendar and announcements

  • 27 February – Disinfolab Webinar: The ad economy of disinformation: does an alternative model exist? With Johnny Ryan from Brave.
  • Call for Nominations – 2019 GUE/NGL Award for Journalists, Whistleblowers and Defenders of the Right to Information: applications until 01/03

Open letter to Facebook: A coalition of European academics, technologists and human and digital rights groups, led by Mozilla, has signed an open letter to the company demanding far greater transparency about how Facebook’s platform distributes and amplifies political ads ahead of elections to the European Parliament which will take place in May.