back to article UK 'fake news' inquiry calls for end to tech middleman excuses, election law overhaul

British lawmakers have been told to create tougher rules for social media giants claiming to be neutral platforms, establish a code of ethics for tech firms, and plump up the UK's self-styled "data sheriff"*. Eighteen months into an epic inquiry that was thrust into the spotlight after the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting …

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  1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Yup.

    Agree. I still don't get why businesses such as Facebook and Google can be deemed exempt from responsibility as to what content gets posted on it and YouTube etc. Same thing for eBay and such like.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Yup.

      Agreed, and all pubs should be responsible if someone drunkely spouts bullshit to you at the bar. And the council if someone were to say something untoward on the street.

      1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge
        Gimp

        Re: Yup.

        Does that apply to the likes of the reg comments then? I came here for the articles and stayed for the insults.....

      2. EnviableOne Bronze badge

        Re: Yup.

        A pub/bar has the right to eject and refuse service to said drunk, and if it was a regular occurance would be expected to employ door staff and in some cities contribute to policing costs.

        Its not unreasonable for FB, GG et al. to refuse service (delete posts,) eject (delete and ban users,) or employ door staff (moderators,) and even contribute to policing (taxes and levies) to deal with the anti-social behaviour of their memebers.

        the council does not own the street, or have any controll over who uses i, so bad metaphor there

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Yup.

        This analogy only works if you passed the message to the landlord to pass on. And if the landlord tried to make a profit from the contents of the message; either by selling the message or using the content of the message to try selling you and the recipient stuff.

      4. Siberian Hamster

        Re: Yup.

        Actually more akin to if they have a noticeboard for people to pin business cards and the like to.

        You wouldn't expect them to check that every type of 'Joe Bloggs roofing contractors, we're the best in the business' is backed up with actual facts but you would expect them to remove something such as 'The guy just moved into no.56 Somesuch Street is a just released paedo' .

      5. DrStrangeLug

        There's a difference

        No, the pub is not responsible if some idiot shouts bullshit towards you at the bar.

        However if the idiot records it and pays the pub money to display it on their screens then they are responsible.

        1. Tom Paine Silver badge

          Re: There's a difference

          A pub that gets repeated police callouts to fights will lose it's license. (Round these parts anyway.)

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Yup.

      well, I'm of the position that people should be able to say whatever they want, as long as its not blatantly libelous and/or slanderous, or in any other way illegal [like advocating riots or other crimes]. But the grips on that kind of thing are rather loose, and so you'll see occasional things that might offend you. Oh well. Grow a thicker skin, I say.

      The thing about Fa[e]ceB[ook,@#$%] being as large as it is, accused of filtering news in a way that favors their own interests [whatever that might be], is what's apparently at question here. I say 'no filtering' and leave the liability with the individual posters. That's the simplest way to avoid quelling speech while simultaneously giving FB [and others] the means by which they can do T.O.S. bans as necessary. If that means banning every conservative or right-winger off of their network, I say "their loss of revenue". I certainly don't need FB for _MY_ news, nor google for my searches. Or whatever.

      But you know, business is business, and politics is politics. The smart business owner will realize this and NOT "play politics". Everyone's money is the SAME color. Welcome, valued customer!

      1. Keef

        Re: Yup.

        'well, I'm of the position that people should be able to say whatever they want, as long as its not blatantly libelous and/or slanderous'

        Maybe look up the difference between libel and slander bb, It is impossible to say anything libellous.

        As an aside, given your propensity for CAPS shouldn't you at least be Bombastic Bob?

        I know appropriate capitalisation might not be your thing, and changing your name would lose you all those downvotes you must be so proud of.

        UK English spelling is libellous, not libelous, so excuse the different spelling between the quote and my contribution

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @keef

          This isn't the spelling/grammar nazi outing.

          I for one had zero problems reading or understanding Bob's points.

          In future you might consider not clicking submit until your post contains something other than unrelated and incorrect sniping.

          Personally I never found character case to make any difference to readability, perhaps because when I started programming CAPS was required for all programming language keywords. Whilst I understand that some people born after 198x insist that CAPS only ever indicates shouting, the convention outside of the internet is merely to add emphasis, with any emotion indicated explicitly as required.

          As an aside, I have often noticed that comprehension failure and screams of "CAPS" are commonly found together, often alongside the insane belief that CAPS are somehow painful to read. These unfortunates will then bluster, at length, that this convention existed before and independantly of the "CAPSLOCK key should be removed from keyboards" rant that most sane people either laughed at or ignored completely.

      2. jmch Silver badge

        Re: Yup.

        " say 'no filtering' and leave the liability with the individual posters. That's the simplest way to avoid quelling speech while simultaneously giving FB [and others] the means by which they can do T.O.S. bans as necessary. "

        Except that FB don't want 'no filtering', they want the ability to filter and reorder posts as necessary to generate the maximum number of clicks and shares

      3. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

        Re: Yup.

        "I certainly don't need FB for _MY_ news, nor google for my searches. Or whatever."

        Nah, you've got Fox to tell you all you need to know, eh?

    4. Mike Ozanne

      Re: Yup.

      Common Carrier protection is the same thing that absolves the Post Office from being responsible for the contents of letters or the phone company for the contents of a phone conversation.

    5. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Yup.

      "I still don't get why businesses such as Facebook and Google can be deemed exempt from responsibility as to what content gets posted on it "

      It's really simple and also explained in the article as being ALREADY part of UK legislation. If there is any sort of promotion, prioritisation or any other type of intervention on the part of the 'platform' with regard to postings and visibility thereof, then it no longer has the protections of 'just being a platform'. Once you start to pick and choose which posts to show (which FB for example clearly does) then you no longer have the excuse that you don't know about the content. Because clearly the promotion is made based on content - what is going to generate most comment / shares.

      FB, Google et al can't have it both ways. They claim to their advertisers (their REAL clients) that they can manage giant volumes of data in enough detail to microtarget users, and in the same breath they claim to regulators that there's too much data for them to oversee.

  2. adnim Silver badge

    'Fake news'

    Prior to the rise of the Internet, we used to call this lies. Or when published a spoof newspaper, a joke.

    If published/broadcast on April 1st an April fools joke.

    If it's fake, believable and intended to deceive or misguide I call it deception.

    If it's fake, believable and intended to slur or defame a person then it's probably libel.

    Why not treat it a such?

    1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

      Re: 'Fake news'

      The Labour party recently held a workshop teaching its MPs to lie in order to smear opponents.

      When Her Majesties Loyal Opposition behaves like that, what's the point even trying to get a handle on the problem?

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: 'Fake news'

        >>The Labour party recently held a workshop teaching its MPs to lie in order to smear opponents.<<

        Three thoughs crossed my mind;

        Who leaked this information? ...All the best schools teach honesty... and That's what happens when safe seats (& quangos etc.) are handed to friends & the children of party members. In the egalitarian past the really clever Sh**s who could 'misinform' naturally would rise to a position of power.

        Is it time for propaganda & BS phraseology spotting lessons in school? it would work well with advertising copy as well.

        Assume any politician talking is lying until proven otherwise by independant fact checking.

        I hold ALL politicos equal in this regard.

        1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

          Re: 'Fake news'

          A Labour MP leaked it.

          I can't find the article unfortunately, I think it was either in The Times or The Sunday Times.

          1. AdamWill

            Re: 'Fake news'

            "A Labour MP leaked it.

            I can't find the article unfortunately, I think it was either in The Times or The Sunday Times."

            So...your response to an article about trying to come to terms with fake news is to:

            1. Make a wild accusation ("Labour teaches its MPs to lie") and say this means it's pointless to even try

            2. When challenged, stand by the accusation but say that you can't actually find any evidence for it anywhere?

            I've just got to go call the Acme Irony Meter Service Department, cos you just broke mine.

            1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

              Re: 'Fake news'

              "but say that you can't actually find any evidence for it anywhere?"

              In any case anything owned by Rupert Murdoch is likely to lie its head off if it suits the agenda. Hillsborough anybody?

            2. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

              Re: 'Fake news'

              Found it.

              https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/labour-holds-awayday-on-how-to-smear-rivals-65pt3qbng

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: 'Fake news'

                Yes, a story without a single name or verifiable source in a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch and which has appeared nowhere else. I call this one "Fake news".

                1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

                  Re: 'Fake news'

                  Don't like the message? Blame the messenger.

                  1. Red Bren

                    Re: 'Fake news'

                    @disgustedoftunbridgewells

                    "Don't like the message? Blame the messenger."

                    I think you've missed the point. When the messenger is motivated to choose what message to convey, they are no longer just a messenger, and are quite rightly in the firing line for some blame.

        2. Jack of Shadows Silver badge

          Re: 'Fake news'

          A third of my English course tenth grade high school did exactly that, teach critical thinking. Everything from spotting indicator words, types of and recognition of the common fallacies, the usual. I've no idea if they even bother these days. Hell, I bet they don't teach kids this as it would prevent manipulation of them in the future towards whatever causes are du jour.

          I happened to select philosophy as one of my electives that year and had great fun on the English side as my philosophy teacher through in a unit on logic including predicate calculus. Very nice tools to line up targets to demolish academic, or media for that matter, arguments. All my notes after that were in this format. Good fun, especially for an academic at heart.

          1. meraesg

            Re: 'Fake news'

            Could you name the tools you mention or cite some references to explore further.

            Thanks.

      2. BebopWeBop Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: 'Fake news'

        The Labour party recently held a workshop teaching its MPs to lie in order to smear opponents.

        Do any Politicians require practice - it is not as though they were exactly Zoons (ref Pterry for anyone urious)

      3. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: 'Fake news'

        The Labour party recently held a workshop teaching its MPs to lie in order to smear opponents.

        Naughty them.....

        Quite frankly the ship sailed on that one years ago - I'm not even sure it started merely with Maggie and her 'Spindoctors'.

        The only way to fix the problem from the source would be a criminal offence against reporting untruth, but applying it to newspapers and news publishing concerns (including partisan info sites, advertising and politicians only at first would probably sort 90% of the problem within a year.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: 'Fake news'

          Naughty them.....

          To be fair the opponents they were lying to were leaders of their own party

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: 'Fake news'

          "but applying it to newspapers and news publishing concerns"

          Who simply call it an opinion piece instead of news and carry on as usual.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: 'Fake news'

            The problem with "fake news" is that it is okay for the estabilishment to lie but when the public who mostly have little reprutation (and would normally be taken with a pinch of salt) do then suddenly this is a crime?

            My thinking is that since the official voice i.e. BBC etc are no longer having the old control over public opinion, they want that control back, with this law asking for obvious censorship.

            When the state doesn't want to listen to the general public then it is proof that they are both isolated and acting without regard for their voters desires, when they make a law to curb the vox populi then clearly they like things as they are.

            I am all for controlling the spread of lies in "official" publications but people should be allowed to think and say what they like so longer as it hurts no other private person.

            Polititians like other media whores are always open season, they chose to step into the limelight and so should be taking the good with the bad with what grace they can find.

      4. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Childcatcher

        Re: 'Fake news'

        "The Labour party recently held a workshop teaching its MPs to lie in order to smear opponents."

        In the USA this is called 'politics as usual'. it's most common every other October. Surprise! I think it's been this way since the beginning. Extra points for mentioning "for the children" (see icon).

        (On occasion I've gone with the side that's the least irritating with the negative ads)

      5. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: 'Fake news'

        The Labour party recently held a workshop teaching its MPs to lie in order to smear opponents.

        I thought this was standard accepted practice for all politicians?

        Hence "Spin Doctor" is a valid respected career choice and, inexplicably , not a criminal offence.

    2. Herring`

      Re: 'Fake news'

      "If it's fake, believable and intended to slur or defame a person then it's probably libel."

      Ah, but libeling who? I recall a headline in a certain popular newspaper on "4,000 foreign murderers and rapists in the UK". (Reading down to paragraph 94, it was 4,000 foreign nationals who had committed an offence, which might include rape or murderer). Who sues in this instance? Press standards organisation no good as the "affected party" can't submit a complaint.

      1. disgustedoftunbridgewells Silver badge

        Re: 'Fake news'

        A newspaper today reported that Fracking is divisive, its evidence was the protest camps.

        It didn't point out that the protesters are paid by a wind farm company owner.

        That's lying by omission in order to further their campaign, but cannot be complained about.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: 'Fake news'

          A newspaper today reported that Fracking is divisive... It didn't point out that the protesters are paid by a wind farm company owner.

          Then it presumably divides wind farm and oil companies - perfectly fair and balanced

      2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: 'Fake news'

        I recall a headline in a certain popular newspaper on "4,000 foreign murderers and rapists in the UK"

        I recall front page headlines and articles labelling 16 million people as traitors, saboteurs, and enemies of the people, simply for having an opinion they didn't find acceptable.

    3. AdamWill

      Re: 'Fake news'

      "If it's fake, believable and intended to deceive or misguide I call it deception.

      ...

      Why not treat it a such?"

      Given that 'deception' isn't a criminal offence...what would "treating it as such" entail exactly?

    4. P. Lee Silver badge

      Re: 'Fake news'

      >Why not treat it a such?

      Shock horror! People on the internet don't always tell the truth!

      From what I can tell it is basically FB's self-promotion. "Look at us, we can fix elections. Sorry about the last one, we'll try to make sure the other party wins next time."

      El Reg's own look at the "Russian meddling" showed it to be quite inconsequential.

      The looks more like a power-grap by politicians rather than anything which could ever hope to be either desirable or workable.

    5. FlamingDeath Bronze badge

      Re: 'Fake news'

      News, fake or not, is basically just PR

  3. }{amis}{ Silver badge
    Flame

    The Only Argument.....

    The Only Argument I can field against regulation of the internet giants is the fetid brew of incompetence, greed and corruption that make up a government does not bode well for the definition of truth.

    The internet in my eyes is like a funhouse mirror reflection of humanity if you don't like what you see you should to first look to the source of the image before contemplating breaking the mirror to make it flatter.

    Even so, the one thing this report does get right is the need for a new type of legal definition of a media organisation somewhere closer to the regs that bind the news, and a long way from the current wild west that the internet giants so happily occupy.

    History tells us over and over that whenever a niche appears with the potential for much money and little regulation appears it will become occupied by scumbags F.B. and co are just the latest iterations of this.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Beware ...

    the underlying motive in this arena is the dismay of the existing media and it's whore politicians that there are people they can't punt their "message" to (kids that don't read newspapers any more) coupled with the easy access to people and organisations that hold the old guard to account.

    Remember, this shower of shits have already suggested an offence of "repeated viewing of extremist material" (definition of "extremist to remain conveniently loose and one-size-fits-up-all).

    I can easily envisage an offence of "viewing an unapproved news site" being created. After all, it's for our own good.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Beware ...

      I have no idea why repeated viewing of terrorist material should be illegal, yet Facebook and YouTube can keep it up there indefinitely.

      The only reasons that come to mind are a) MPs have been lobbied by Google, Facebook, b) civil servants don't know how to draft the laws, or c) the data will be used to compile watchlists.

      a) requires a less corrupt democratic system, b) PPE and classics graduates have no idea about anything technical, and in this age this is unworkable and they must get outside expertise in, or c) that doesn't work for preventing radicalisation, people get radicalised anyway, there are too many to keep tabs on, the material must simply get taken down.

      1. Red Bren

        Re: Beware ...

        Perhaps PPE graduates should be barred from public office, unless they also possess a STEM degree? You can still study PPE if it's of esoteric interest to you, not because it's the qualification you need if you want a career as a politician. Indeed, ther shouldn't even be such a things as a "career as a politician"

  5. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Transparent solution.

    Give the ICO auditing powers along the lines of inland revenue and in addition to x% turnover fines, prison time should be on the list of available sanctions.

    Companies dealing in user data as a commodity;

    (1) Join a special GDPR register with active ICO oversight.

    (2) Notify users every time any of their info is used for marketing 'research'.

    (3) Give users a prominent link to see their own data set by platform.

    We know most users don't give a monkeys cuss about their data because they can't comprehend the power of analytics but at least they'll not be in the dark about the cost of free services.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why are people getting their news from from Social Media?

    That seems to the be the real problem. A re-education program how to obtain news is in order.

    1. jaywin

      Re: Why are people getting their news from from Social Media?

      Because it tells them the "news" they want to hear.

      1. Mycho Silver badge

        Re: Why are people getting their news from from Social Media?

        Critical thinking when reading the news is something sadly missing in the UK.

        Here's a tip, if you know a source of news that you trust, you've fallen victim to fake news. Everyone is biased and news sources are written by people. Ideally we need to embrace fake news as a reminder not to trust any news outlet too much.

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