Fake news report picks easy target in Facebook

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport fake news report disappoints in its single-minded attack on Facebook as the destroyer of public discourse and democracy.

I’m tired, weary even, of people seeking easy answers to complex problems. Life isn’t that simple.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee has published its final report on fake news. It has Facebook firmly in its sights as the villain of public discourse. Indeed, it is blamed for the manipulation of democracy itself. (see Dan Gerrella’s blog for the report’s details – ed)

As an advocate of the EU I should be a supporter of the work of the cross-party DCMS committee. I’ve followed its work from the outset. The report is as close to an admission as we’ve had from the government of the role of social media in influencing the Leave outcome of the 2016 Brexit referendum.

But its final report is a single-minded document that blames Facebook for the pollution of the media with fake news and all that is wrong with political discourse.

Propaganda on Facebook is an example of how fake news can be targeted at scale but it’s one example alongside countless others. There’ limited mention in the report of the role of the following in the origination or propagation of fake news:

  • owned media and organization communications;
  • news media, the tabloid press, radio and TV;
  • poster advertising;
  • figures in public life; and,
  • Twitter, Google or YouTube.

The Leave campaign advertised on the side of a bus during the Brexit campaign. It promised to return £350 million to the NHS after the UK left the EU. We know it was bullshit but it doesn’t event make a footnote in the report.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg failed to appear in front of the committee when summoned in November 2018. The frustration of the committee is plain to read.

The 51 recommendations made in the report are focused on the regulation of social media platforms and improving transparency in the electoral process.

It would be lazy writing to call the report fake news, but its suggestion that the regulation of social media is the easy answer to the complex problem of fake news is simply wrong.

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Photo by Kayla Velasquez on Unsplash

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