This is a republished Twitter thread, written in reaction to the leaked House of Commons Select Committee report on disinformation and 'fake news'. You can see the original thread on the Full Fact Twitter.
For background, we met the committee last year and have given evidence to other select committees, @PublicStandards, and have met with UK and other governments about mis/disinformation.
Three priorities: (1) don’t over-react – the ‘cure’ could be worse than the disease (2) act now to protect elections and democracy (3) stop playing defence – providing trusted information is the missing part of this debate.
One of the biggest risks here is government overreaction, which we’ve seen happen in many countries around the world. The cure could be worse than the disease. Action must be taken that both protects free speech and limits the harm from misinformation.
Transparency is crucial. Last year we helped draft a bill that would require transparency of campaigning and advertising during elections and referendums.
We don’t think the scale of political advertising is understood yet. Donald Trump’s US campaign reportedly ran 5.9 million different adverts.
Publishing adverts later in an archive is not transparency. It must be in real time, machine readable, with full details of content, targeting & spend. So that it can be legitimately scrutinised. An election has to be a shared experience. The select committee stops short of this.
Right now, the only action being taken on advertising transparency is by the internet companies. But it shouldn’t be up to them and, even then, what they are doing is not enough.
Election rules shouldn’t be set in the terms and conditions of tech companies, they should be set by open transparent democratic processes.
An election is coming. It may well come soon. If the rules on political advertising aren’t changed, it will be wide open for abuse.
Beyond advertising, we must think about how we safeguard democracy in a world where digital campaigning is constantly changing, even outside of elections. A principles led approach is the right approach.
Good to see the debate on the tech companies get beyond ‘platform vs publisher’. We said this to another Select Committee, then to @PublicStandards who agreed. Now this inquiry reaches the same conclusion. We are dealing with new categories that need new ideas and rules.
In the long run, we need to be better at giving people trusted information. We’re a country rich in institutions that should be mandated to do this - we spend millions on @ONS, @CommonsLibrary @ESRC @OBR_UK - we need to start talking about resilience and building trust, not just defence.
Instead, the independent institutions that voters pay for to inform public decisions are currently told to be quiet during elections when they are most needed, thanks to the overly restrictive ‘purdah’ rules that need to be changed.
We will be publishing our paper with recommendations to the government and others on tackling misinformation in an open society shortly.
Full Fact is the UK’s independent factchecking charity. We work to safeguard against misinformation, and have been doing so since 2010. To help us on this mission, please donate.