A new report from British lawmakers on how social media is used to spread disinformation finds that Facebook and other big tech companies are failing their users and dodging accountability.
"The guiding principle of the 'move fast and break things' culture often seems to be that it is better to apologise than ask permission," said Damian Collins, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee that drafted the report. "We need a radical shift in the balance of power between the platforms and the people. The age of inadequate self regulation must come to an end."
The 108-page report is often scathing on Facebook's practices and corporate conduct. The committee's inquiry into disinformation began in September 2017, as revelations emerged that Facebook had been used to spread disinformation during the U.S. presidential election and the U.K. Brexit referendum vote, both in 2016. In March 2018, the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and showed how users' data could be harvested and misappropriated.
"Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like 'digital gangsters' in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law," the authors write.
Social media companies have been able to evade responsibility by claiming to be merely "platforms," the committee notes. They recommend the formulation of a new category of tech company — neither exactly a "platform" or "publisher" — that clarifies companies' liability for harmful content posted by users.