Remainer Committee Chair Threatens Facebook, Twitter with ‘Sanctions’ for Alleged Brexit ‘Fake News’

Damian Collins
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The chairman of a Commons select committee and inquiry is threatening Twitter and Facebook with “sanctions” unless they “take action” against alleged “foreign” interventions and “fake news” linked to the Brexit vote.

Damian Collins, who backed Remain and campaigned against Brexit, spoke about “highly problematic content” and demanded a “mechanism” for punishing platforms that do not act on content the government disagrees with.

He chairs the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, which is currently investigating so-called “fake news”, and gave social media firms until the 18th of January to comply with his demands, The Guardian reports.

His sensationalist claims come just days after an impartial Oxford University study found Russia-linked Twitter activity before the Brexit referendum was “minimal” with a “not significant” 105 accounts mentioning the referendum.

A week before, it was revealed to Mr. Collins’ committee that just one Russian account spent cash promoting tweets in the six weeks before the referendum, buying up just six ads.

It is already known that Russia-linked accounts also tweeted out anti-Brexit, pro-Remain messages, and Facebook has said pro-Brexit accounts spent just 73 pence — less than one dollar — on ads linked to the referendum on their platform.

Despite the mounting evidence against significant Russian intervention on social media, Mr. Collins chose this time to make his most dramatic intervention, giving the first concrete warning that sanctions could follow.

He told The Guardian: “There has to be a way of scrutinising the procedures that companies like Facebook put in place to help them identify known sources of disinformation, particularly when it’s politically motivated and coming from another country.”

“They need to be able to tell us what they can do about it. And what we need to be able to do is say to the companies: we recognise that you are best placed to monitor what is going on your own site and to get the balance right in taking action against it but also safeguarding the privacy of users.

“But what there has to be then is some mechanism of saying: if you fail to do that, if you ignore requests to act, if you fail to police the site effectively and deal with highly problematic content, then there has to be some sort of sanction against you,” Mr. Collins said.

Other prominent media examples of “Russian intervention” and supposedly pro-Brexit “bots” have fallen apart.

In November, Byline Media claimed to have found a Russia-linked account. However, the man behind the “bot” was later tracked down by The Scotsman and revealed as a security guard from Glasgow who liked to tweet about Brexit during his shifts.

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