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Facebook has gambled away the right to regulate its own bad behaviour.

All credit must go to Damian Collins MP and his colleagues at the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Select Committee. Their report on fake news, published yesterday, does not pull its punches.

Even a cursory read of the text reveals the extent to which Facebook has been operating irresponsibly. As the report makes clear, the entire social media sector has remained unregulated for too long, and “the big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users”.

Fake News, hate speech, radicalisation and recruitment to nefarious organisations… Facebook has been used as a platform for malicious intent for years.

I am absolutely delighted to see that the company is now being held to account for its actions, and – just as importantly – inactions. I can only hope that advertisers all over the world will have a good long read of this DCMS report and decide whether they really want to spend their money on such a platform.

Campaign groups like Stop Funding Hate may also wish to reconsider whether newspapers are really the best focus for their ire, considering what has been happening online by platforms that still refuse to even accept that they are publishers.

Facebook’s response to the DCMS report has been laughable, considering the company’s behaviour over recent years, as well as its treatment of the Committee itself. It has claimed to welcome the report and has said that it is open to “meaningful regulation”.

Fundamentally, it does not matter in the slightest whether Facebook considers itself to be open or closed to regulation.

Instead, it’s time for our politicians to tame this platform once and for all, along with the irresponsible strategic communications practitioners who have been using Facebook’s convenient loopholes to undermine democracies, erode trust in our media, and abuse our personal data.

Here’s my solution: stop trying to involve the social media giants in the development of regulations over their own behaviour. It’s the equivalent of trusting them to mark their own homework. Their lobbying capabilities will undermine the process otherwise – just look at Facebook’s decision to hire Nick Clegg to its communications team.

Rather, consult with advertisers and the general public to design appropriate laws, then simply impose these on this irresponsible industry.

This is a social matter – for the people – as the name social media suggests. And it is the people who can and should decide on the ethics that underpin these tech giants.

For too long, commercial interests have been allowed to define what is deemed ethically and socially acceptable. A new world order in the social media and strategic communications space is necessary – and this is already being developed by companies that didn’t sell their souls along the way.

These smaller challengers should be given a chance to set higher standards within the industry, in partnership with socially responsible brands and advertisers, as well as the public. Only then will government regulation truly protect the online audience.

In other words, we need to shift power from big tech back to the people. Which, ironically, is what big tech has always claimed to be about.

 

 

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