The government is failing to tackle fake news – despite being warned it could lead to a “democratic crisis” in the UK.
A report into disinformation published by Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee in July warned “democracy is at risk” thanks to the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views” through fake news.
According to the interim report, this targeting, particularly on social media, plays to people’s fears and prejudices “in order to influence their voting plans”.
In its response, the government said it wanted to “reduce the impact of disinformation on UK society and our national interests, in line with our democratic values”.
But the stark warnings have failed to shock ministers into action, according to DCMS committee chair Damian Lewis, who slammed the government’s “disappointing” response to the report as a “missed opportunity”.
Just three of the committee’s 42 recommendations – which included calls to create a public register for political advertising and make social media sites legally responsible for harmful and illegal content on their platforms – were accepted outright by the government.
Collins said ministers were using ongoing investigations as an excuse to “further delay desperately needed announcements on the ongoing issues of harmful and misleading content being spread through social media”.
“We need to see a more coordinated approach across government to combat campaigns of disinformation being organised by Russian agencies seeking to disrupt and undermine our democracy,” the Tory MP said.
“The government’s response gives us no real indication of what action is being taken on this important issue.”
Newly-appointed DCMS secretary Jeremy Wright is set to face questions from the committee on the issue when he appears in front of them for the first time on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the final report on fake news will be published in December.
Collins’ comments come just days after the committee revealed details of an anonymous pro-Brexit Facebook campaign calling on users to lobby their MP to “chuck Chequers”.
According to evidence shared with MPs, almost 11 million people were targeted by the campaign – which is estimated to have cost around £250,000 – in less than a year and the people or organisation behind it remains unknown.