Facebook ‘digital gangsters’ who spread fake news: British MPs

In this file photo taken on December 12, 2007 The logo of social networking website 'Facebook' is displayed on a computer screen in London. (AFP)
Updated 18 February 2019

Facebook ‘digital gangsters’ who spread fake news: British MPs

  • Facebook is coming under attack over its response to Russia’s suspected use of misleading stories and targeted ads to sway the 2016 US presidential election

LONDON: A scathing British parliamentary report on Monday branded Facebook “digital gangsters” who failed to fight the spread of fake news and violated data privacy.
Lawmakers’ 18-month investigation into technology companies and disinformation also accused the world’s largest social media platform of trying to hide the extent of Russian interference in foreign elections.
Facebook is coming under attack over its response to Russia’s suspected use of misleading stories and targeted ads to sway the 2016 US presidential election and a series of European votes.
Its executives have further been accused of trying to either hide or suppress emerging evidence of foreign meddling flagged by its engineers.
Parliamentary committee chair Damian Collins said Facebook “deliberately sought to frustrate our work by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at times misleading answers to our questions.”
Facebook co-founder and chief Mark Zuckerberg turned down three requests to appear before the committee.
“Companies like Facebook should not be allowed to behave like ‘digital gangsters’ in the online world, considering themselves to be ahead of and beyond the law,” the 108-page report said.
The committee urged a compulsory code of ethics for all tech companies that would be overseen by an independent UK regulator.
Collins told AFP he hoped “that before the end of the year, there could be a firm proposal for legislation” establishing how such an oversight body would work.
“This ends the idea that tech companies are just platforms, that they are independent and that the responsibility for the content lies solely on the person who posted it,” Collins said in a phone interview.
“They have limited liability for the content that has been posted there. They are not neutral. They curate the space, they promote content toward users.”
Facebook spokesman Karim Palant said executives at the California-based company “share the committee’s concerns about false news and election integrity.”
“We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee’s recommendation for electoral law reform,” Palant said in a statement.
But Collins said Facebook has only adopted incremental policy changes that were mostly aimed at fending off regulation making it liable for the spread of malicious stories.
“They have taken a step, largely I think, to offset legislation,” said Collins.
“It shouldn’t be down to Mark Zuckerberg to determine what the code is for election advertising in the UK through Facebook.”
The committee earlier found that Facebook’s engineers had flagged potentially malicious Russian activity as early as 2014 — long before it became public.
Monday’s report said the two Facebook officials who did testify “deliberately misled the committee or they were deliberately not briefed by senior executives at Facebook about the extent of Russian interference in foreign elections.”
UK officials have been probing the role Russian misinformation campaigns may have played in swaying Britons toward voting in favor of leaving the European Union in 2016.
Russia has denied either backing Britain’s decision or covertly backing pro-Brexit leaders during the divisive campaign.
The committee further accused Facebook of offering Netflix and other popular apps preferential access to people’s data even after it had tightened its privacy rules.
“They are acting in an aggressive way against other companies that could be considered a commercial threat to Facebook,” Collins told AFP.
The British government has eight weeks to respond to the parliamentary report.
Britain is coming under pressure to follow the example set by Germany and France of introducing rules governing how Facebook collects user data and fights fake news.
Germany’s competition authority said this month it will impose limits to how Facebook hoovers up data from its WhatsApp and Instagram subsidiaries.
And France has introduced laws requiring social media giants to take down malicious stories during election campaigns.
Collins said it would be up to parliament to determine what rules and punishments to impose.
“We feel that it’s no longer good enough just to ask the tech companies to get better,” he said.


Is Trump’s love affair with Fox News fading?

Updated 19 August 2019

Is Trump’s love affair with Fox News fading?

  • Trump appears to be tilting his media gaze toward a more right-wing rival, cable outfit OANN
  • Since March Trump has tweeted links to OANN stories or shared his appreciation of the network 13 times

WASHINGTON: Last month after Donald Trump watched Fox News lob what he called “softball questions” at a Democratic lawmaker, the US president delivered a crisp smackdown of his favorite network: “Fox sure ain’t what it used to be.”
After years of often fawning coverage by Fox, particularly from its pro-Trump anchors like Sean Hannity, the commander in chief appears to be tilting his media gaze toward a younger, more right-wing rival, cable outfit One America News Network (OANN).
The small upstart broadcaster was launched only recently, in 2013, by technology millionaire Robert Herring, who sought a more conservative alternative to mainstream media behemoths like CNN.
Today it seeks to outfox Fox by drawing extra attention from Trump, who has been voicing his displeasure with the ratings leader over everything from presidential polling to its hosting of Democratic candidate town halls.
Last week in a tweet to his 63 million followers, the president managed to disparage Fox and his mainstream news foil CNN, while heaping praise on the new object of his media affection.
“Watching Fake News CNN is better than watching Shepard Smith, the lowest rated show on @FoxNews. Actually, whenever possible, I turn to @OANN!” Trump posted.
Since March he has tweeted links to OANN stories or shared his appreciation of the network 13 times.
The relationship has been years in the making. In 2015 Trump was interviewed by Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, when she guest-hosted OANN’s show “On Point.”
At his first press conference as president-elect, in January 2017, Trump took a question from an OANN reporter. OANN was then called on dozens of times at the daily briefings in Trump’s first 100 days in office.
During his June 2018 press conference in Singapore, following the summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, Trump took a question from OANN White House correspondent Emerald Robinson, but not before gushing about her network.
“Thank you for the nice way you treat us. We appreciate it,” he said. “Really, it’s very good. It’s really beautiful what you do.”
The San Diego-based operation describes itself as “straight news, no opinion.” But the pro-Trump agenda is crystal clear, more than a dozen current and former employees told The Washington Post in 2017.
Herring himself, in his pinned tweet, describes OANN as “the president’s favorite new outlet.”
When Fox cut away from broadcasting a Trump rally in New Hampshire on Thursday, Herring tweeted, “We will never cut away!“

Purveyor of conspiracy theories
OANN has faced accusations of promoting conspiracy theories and peddling Kremlin propaganda.
“Yeah, we like Russia here,” a staffer assigned to brief new OANN producer Ernest Champell told him, according to The Daily Beast. Champell left, disillusioned, four months later.
“The network has a history of race-baiting and presenting anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-abortion reporting,” according to Media Matters, a progressive nonprofit group that says its mission is “analyzing and correcting conservative misinformation.”
While OANN’s influence in the White House may far outweigh its position in the news media landscape, Trump clearly retains an affinity for several people in the Fox organization.
The show “Fox & Friends” remains his go-to morning program; Trump has phoned in on numerous occasions as president.
Perhaps that is why Democratic longshot contender Julian Castro purchased ad time during “Fox & Friends” this week, airing a spot in which he directly addresses Trump and blames him for inspiring the El Paso shooter who massacred 22 people early this month.

Trump jealous
Sean Hannity, the network’s popular anchor, appeared alongside Trump at a campaign rally ahead of the 2018 mid-terms.
But friction emerged this week when Hannity expressed support for CNN anchor Chris Cuomo after a video of Cuomo in a heated argument at a New York bar went viral.
It was a sharp contrast to Trump, who tweeted that Cuomo — the brother of New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo — was “nuts” and showed a “total loss of control” in the incident.
The president expressed frustration when Fox aired multiple town halls in recent months featuring Democrats who are trying to unseat him in 2020, including South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, currently fifth in major polling.
“Hard to believe that @FoxNews is wasting airtime on Mayor Pete,” Trump tweeted in May. “Fox is moving more and more to the losing (wrong) side in covering the Dems.”
Fox News presidential polling is also a concern for Trump, whose job approval rating in the network’s mid-August poll dipped substantially, to 43 percent, while his disapproval rating spiked to 56 percent, its highest since October 2017.
In head-to-head matchups, the poll shows Trump losing to major Democratic candidates, including to frontrunner Joe Biden by 12 percentage points and to liberal Bernie Sanders by nine.
Fox polls “have always been terrible to me,” he tweeted in late July.