Facebook and Twitter to respond to UK fake news inquiry amid concerns of foreign interference in UK politics

Facebook and Twitter have said they will respond to the parliamentary inquiry into fake news as part of a wider response to the Electoral Commission on the issue of Russian interference in UK politics.

Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, Damian Collins MP, who is leading the fake news inquiry had contacted both social media networks in recent weeks.

It followed fresh revelations at congressional hearings held last month about Russian meddling in last year’s US presidential elections, with some foreign accounts also suspected of interfering in Britain’s Brexit vote.

Collins today shared the responses to his letters from both web giants.

Policy director Simon Milner said Facebook was “now considering how we can best respond to the Electoral Commission’s request for information” with the responses expected by the second week of December.

He added: “Given that your letter is about the same issue, we will share our response to Electoral Commission with you.”

Milner said Facebook “remained committed” to assisting the committee’s “wider inquiry into ‘fake news’”.

Twitter’s head of public policy Nick Pickles told Collins: “We are currently undertaking investigations into these questions and intend to share our findings in the coming weeks.”

He added: “It is important to note that not all automated accounts are bad, whether posting air quality sensor readings or posting details of Wikipedia edits, while not all high activity accounts are bots.

“Equally, given Twitter’s central control – users choosing to follow or unfollow an account to curate what appears in their timeline- is a robust defence against low-quality automated accounts.

“We do not underestimate the importance or complexity of these issues.”

In his letter, Pickles noted media coverage highlighting that real Twitter users were named as “bots” in research, which he said reinforced the risks of “limited data being used to attribute activity”.

“We at Twitter are mindful of the implications of a person being falsely accused of being a bot or associated with state sponsored election interference, and take very seriously our obligations to protect user privacy and safety,” he said.

“We recognise these issues and are already engaged in dialogue with academics and think tanks around the world, including those in the UK, to discuss potential collaboration and to explore where our own efforts can be better shared without jeopardizing their effectiveness or user privacy.”

Picture: Reuters/Dado Ruvic