Facebook: A “digital gangster

Facebook: A “digital gangster

Facebook: A “digital gangster”

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  Facebook is out of control, and it’s endangering democracy: that’s the conclusion of an 18month investigation by MPs into online disinformation and political campaigning, said Carole Cadwalladr in The Guardian. The report by the all-party Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee describes the tech giant as a “digital gangster” that has sold its users’ data without permission, flouted competition laws and deliberately misled Parliament –above all on the question of electoral interference by Russia. With evidence from an extraordinary cast of characters, this is the first truly comprehensive assessment of the “dark heart” of the tech economy, and its recommendations pull no punches: Facebook should be investigated by data and competition watchdogs, and –along with other tech companies –made subject to an independent regulator, with acompulsory code of ethics. Britain’s electoral laws, meanwhile, need to be rewritten “from the bottom up”. There’s really only one question: “Will the Government act on this report or bury it?”

In one respect, the report is areal step forward, said Alex Krasodomski-Jones on CapX. Proposals to regulate social media companies have stumbled for years over whether they are publishers who are responsible for their content, or merely neutral platforms.

Cut through this by proposing anew category that lies in-between the two. But in calling for acode of ethics that requires illegal or harmful content to be taken down, it has done nothing to clarify what is or isn’t permitted online. How do you define what’s harmful? The report cites the death of Molly Russell, who, aged 14, took her own life after engaging with material about depression and self-harm –but for some people it’s actually helpful to discuss these topics. This is acrucial question, agreed Naomi Firsht in The Times. Anew law in Germany, which forces tech companies to remove hate speech within 24 hours or face afine of up to s50m, has resulted in some purely satirical tweets being deleted because moderators took them at face value. The truth is that increased regulation of social media means censoring its users –us.
 
Still, the German model shows that Facebook can be forced to take action, said The Guardian: one-sixth of its moderators are now based there. It’s not the only company causing problems –Google and YouTube, which are hardly mentioned in the report, also disseminate vast amounts of fake news. But the fact that so much power lies with ahandful of tech giants offers “a paradoxical hope”: if governments succeed in bringing them to book, then much of the skulduggery on the internet can be controlled.

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