Over the past couple of years I have been part of a major investigation by Parliament’s Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee into the role of social media in society.
The Committee, which includes MPs from all the major parties, has taken a long, hard look at how tech giants such as Facebook play an increasingly important role both in our individual lives and in big, collective moments such as elections.
But it’s a sad fact that regulation has not kept up with the break-neck growth of social media, and it is past time that changed. So my colleagues and I on the DCMS Committee have published a new report setting out our proposals for a robust, fit-for-purpose system of regulation.
Our plan falls into two broad categories: protecting individuals from harmful content and the misuse of their data; and safeguarding our democracy from ‘fake news’ and other practices outside our long British tradition of transparency and fair play.
We call on the Government to protect individuals by requiring companies such as Facebook to sign up to a new code of ethics – and to establish a powerful, well-resourced, and independent regulator to make sure they stick to it. This code would require social media companies to take down illegal and otherwise harmful content as fast as they can, and impose penalties if they don’t.
Next, we want ministers to introduce a new tax on the biggest technology companies. This money would then be used to strengthen the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). We have called on the ICO to take a long, hard look at how Facebook uses its customers’ data, and I think it’s right that at least a share of the cost of this should be borne by these hugely-profitable businesses.
We also have several proposals for how the Government can protect our democracy, all rooted in the same spirit that already governs the strict rules imposed on traditional media during elections. These include both strict new transparency rules for online political advertising and a major boost in the powers of the Electoral Commission.
Our investigation has attracted huge global interest, and I’m proud that Parliament has a chance to be at the forefront of bringing the rule of law to the wild web.
Originally published in the Solihull Observer, 28/02/19.