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Tech giants recalled to Parliament to provide more answers on Covid-19 disinformation

Posted on: May 20, 2020 by Ian Murray

Twitter, Facebook and Google have been recalled to Parliament to give evidence after the DCMS Chair lambasted the tech giants for he said failing to provide adequate answers about how they are tackling false information about Covid-19. 

Julian Knight, DCMS Committee Chair, said the standard of evidence given by the social media companies ‘left him with no alternative but to recall them to Parliament’.

Knight added that he expected the companies to respond to the urgency of the Covid-19 fake news situation by sending senior executive who ‘can be held accountable’ for the company’s policies. 

The statement was sent out today by the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) sub-committee on Online Harms and Disinformation which is investigating the measures put in place by social media companies to tackle the ‘infodemic’ of false narratives about Covid-19. 

On May 4, Knight demanded further evidence from Twitter, Google and Facebook after MPs felt a virtual hearing on April 30 “fell short of the standards we expect in terms of clarity and openness”. 

Following the demands for further evidence, the DCMS Sub-committee has today published a series of exchanges between Parliament and the social media companies.

Representatives from Facebook, Twitter and Google responded in writing to Knight about the measures they were putting in place to combat disinformation. 

The full statement today (May 20) by DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP read: 

“We were very disappointed by the standard of evidence given by all three social media companies, given the damage that can be done by the deliberate spreading of false information about Covid-19 and the need to tackle it urgently.

“The failures by Twitter, Facebook and Google to give adequate answers in writing to our outstanding questions have left me with no alternative but to recall them to Parliament.

“This time we expect the companies to demonstrate the importance they attach to this issue by sending senior executives who have knowledge of their policies and can be held accountable for them.”

Social media companies are being asked to provide evidence about measures they have put in place to tackle an ‘infodemic’ of false narratives about Covid-19 as part of an ongoing inquiry into online harms and disinformation. Further clarity is required surrounding the following issues:

Facebook

  • design decisions for WhatsApp in limiting the spread of false narratives

  • reliance of automated content moderation

  • scope and effectiveness of new ‘correct the record’ tools

Twitter

  • user verification, reporting mechanisms and content moderation

  • concerns about the role of influencers and ‘blue ticks’ in spreading misinformation such as 5G conspiracy theories, including high profile celebrities and politicians.

Google

  • user reporting functionality, algorithms and recommendation systems

  • placing of ads on websites peddling conspiracy theories

  • concerns that YouTube allowed creators to effectively monetise spread of misinformation through Super Chat revenue (demonstrated by the London Real/David Icke case) going against other efforts to demonetise the videos

Knight said in a letter to Facebook that he hoped the follow-up session could take place on w/c 1 June. 

 

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