Insights Department for Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee publishes interim report on Disinformation and “fake news”


The interim report is part of the Select Committee’s extensive inquiry into disinformation online.

The report finds that our democracy is at risk as a result of the spread of disinformation and “fake news” online.

In fact, the report finds, the term “fake news” has now taken on a variety of meanings, including a description of any statement that is not liked or agreed with by the reader. The Committee recommends that the Government rejects the term “fake news”, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words “misinformation” and “disinformation”.

More invasive than obviously false information is what the report calls “the relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views” which play to the fears and prejudices of people in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour. According to the Committee, we are faced with a crisis concerning the use of data, the manipulation of our data, and the targeting of pernicious views. In particular, the Committee heard evidence of Russian state-sponsored attempts to influence elections in the US and the UK through social media, of the efforts of private companies to do the same, and of law-breaking by certain Leave campaign groups in the UK’s EU Referendum in their use of social media.

The Committee concludes that in a rapidly changing digital world, the existing legal framework is no longer fit for purpose. The report highlights significant concerns, following recent revelations regarding, in particular, political manipulation, and sets out areas where urgent action needs to be taken by the Government and other regulatory agencies to build resilience against misinformation and disinformation into our democratic system.

In addition tech companies, such as Facebook and other platforms, must begin to take responsibility for the way in which their platforms are used. The report says that social media platforms can no longer hide behind the claim of being merely a “platform”, claiming that they are tech companies and have no role themselves in regulating the content of their sites. The Committee recommends that a new category of tech company be formulated, which tightens their liabilities, and which is not necessarily either a “platform” or a “publisher”.

In the Committee’s view, clear legal liability for the tech companies to act against harmful and illegal content on their platforms needs to be established. This should include both content that has been referred to them for takedown by their users, and other content that should have been easy for the tech companies to identify for themselves. To access the interim report, click here.