NEWS30 July 2018

Fake news and data manipulation threatening democracy, says DCMS report

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UK – The government should support research on how misinformation is created, a report published by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee has recommended.

The select committee’s interim report on disinformation and fake news has concluded that the issue is a threat to the future of democracy, and that the UK is facing a crisis over the use and manipulation of data for targeting of “pernicious views” to influence political behaviour.

“Arguably, more invasive than obviously false information is the relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour,” said the report.

With the UK’s existing legal framework no longer fit to tackle the issues posed by an increasingly digital world, the government and regulatory bodies must now take “urgent action”, the report argues.

Its publication follows the select committee’s 18-month inquiry on fake news, which focused heavily in recent months on the issues raised by the scandal involving alleged improper use of Facebook user data by analytics consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

‘Fake news’ should be rejected as a term, due to ambiguity over its meaning, and instead replaced by agreed definitions of ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’, according to the report.

Among the other recommendations is the need for more research on the methods by which false information is created and spread. The government should set up a working group to create a “credible annotation of standards” that would provide the public with a website’s fact-checking verification, the report said.

The committee also recommend that online content should be held to the same standards as TV and radio broadcasters under existing Ofcom regulations.

The release of the committee’s findings precedes a further report, due to be published in autumn.

Elizabeth Denham, information commissioner, said: “We have welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the DCMS inquiry, which is vital to understand the increasingly complex era of digital political campaigning, big data and disinformation online.

“The committee’s work builds on the ICO’s recommendations in Democracy Disrupted, our report into the use of data analytics for political purposes where we reveal how personal data is used to target voters and highlight the transparency necessary to retain the trust and confidence of the electorate in the future.”

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