UK MPs' disinformation sub-committee is sure to bring Facebook chief to heel (in Opposites Land)

Damian Collins' band just can't quit fake news, babe

UK Parliament's digital committee, keen to ride its post-Facebook probe publicity wave, has launched a sub-committee on disinformation to dig into the issues raised during its high-profile report.

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The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee today announced it was birthing a subdivision that will be Parliament's "institutional home" for data privacy, disinformation and scrutiny of "threats to democracy".

The group, chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins, was thrust into the spotlight thanks to its pursuit of Facebook frontman Mark Zuckerberg in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

It garnered headlines for threatening to issue Zuck with a formal summons the next time he landed in the UK, and then using a similar power to seize – and later release – damaging court documents about the social media empire.

During its 18-month inquiry, the committee grilled various Facebook execs, but its dogged efforts to haul in the head honcho continued to the end. With the launch of the sub-committee on disinformation, we can expect the chase to continue; an invite for Facebook's new head of global affairs and the former deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, is also likely.

Collins said at the time the report was published that it would not be the final word on the matter, and this morning emphasised that the new sub-committee would be crucial to ensuring policies are robust enough to protect people from disinformation and dodgy data dealings.

He said tech firms' progress and commitments to privacy had been too slow and self-serving. "Tech companies have only shifted superficially in their approach to privacy, and only for the benefit of their own PR," added Collins. "It's unacceptable and we must keep up the pressure for them to shift their approach to ensure people and their rights are protected."

The group also has meetings planned in May and June to consider the government's response to the disinformation report and the much-anticipated White Paper on Online Harms.

The move comes as Zuckerberg penned a Washington Post op-ed setting out (once again) to convince the public he is serious about data protection, election integrity, harmful content and data portability – and called on governments to take a more active role in regulation.

To most, his words – like all the other cringeworthy PR attempts and broken promises from Facebook in the past year – rang hollow.

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Even the Information Commissioner's Office – also not one to shy from the media spotlight during the data-harvesting affair – used it as an opportunity to call on Facebook to ditch its appeal against the £500,000 fine it handed out last year.

The ICO is hoping to dodge the costs of a protracted legal battle with the well-resourced Zuckerborg on top of the £2.5m-plus bill already splashed on the probe – but it has come under fire for trying to subvert the appeals process.

"Appeals are good for everyone – they allow an independent set of eyes on the regulator's decision-making and often contain better guidance than ICO produces," said consultant Tim Turner on Twitter. "If the ICO decision is sound, they should relish an appeal." ®




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