MP: Facebook must step up fake news fight before UK election

Committee chair accuses social network of not responding fast enough

Government

Facebook should improve its response to fake news ahead of the UK general election, according to the chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee.

Damian Collins said that the social network must block or issue warnings about material that contain falsehoods, because fake news could pose a threat to "the integrity of democracy", as voters who rely on Facebook for their news could be misled, according to an interview with the Guardian.

Collins pointed to the dangers of fake news in the US presidential elections, saying: "The top 20 fake news stories in the last three months of the election were shared more than the top 20 most shared stories that were true. The danger is, if for many people the main source of news is Facebook and if the news they get on Facebook is mostly fake news, they could be voting based on lies."

He also highlighted how he was worried about how Facebook responded to complaints about fake news and urged the company to speed up the way it removes it.

"Looking at some of the work that has been done so far, they [Facebook] don't respond fast enough or at all to some of the user referrals they can get. They can spot quite quickly when something goes viral. They should then be able to check whether that story is true or not and, if it is fake, blocking it or alerting people to the fact that it is disputed. It can't just be users referring the validity of the story. They have to make a judgment about whether a story is fake or not."

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: "Improving news literacy is a global priority and false news runs counter to our mission to connect people with the stories that they find meaningful. This is an evolving challenge and we understand that we need to do our part to help people understand how to make decisions about which sources to trust.

Just this month, Facebook rolled out new tools to combat fake news, including an educational tool that hovers at the top of a user's news feed to give them tips on how to spot false stories as well as launching a news integrity initiative.

Google also rolled out some changes, one of which is an update to its search algorithm aimed at giving fake news less precedence in its results than accurate reports.

The UK government launched a "fake news" inquiry in January spearheaded by Collins, who has previously called the phenomenon "a threat to democracy," and warned that it "undermines confidence in the media in general".

Some experts have blamed Facebook for allowing fake news around the US presidential election to be shared among thousands of users.

Collins said the owners of these platforms need to do more to fight back against those spreading them, saying: "Just as major tech companies have accepted they have a social responsibility to combat piracy online and the illegal sharing of content, they also need to help address the spreading of fake news on social media platforms."

His committee will investigate the issues as well as looking into the sources of fake news and what motivates people to spread it.

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