27/07/2018 17:55 BST | Updated 28/07/2018 07:40 BST

Fake News And Data Misuse Is Putting Democracy At Risk, Leaked Report Suggests

Vote Leave strategist releases report days ahead of embargo.

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Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chairman, Damian Collins.

The government and regulators are being urged to take urgent action to tackle data manipulation and fake-news, a parliamentary committee is expected to say, due to fears that it could impact democracy.

The digital, culture, media, and sport (DCMS) committee was due to release the findings of its, ‘Disinformation and ’fake news: interim report’ on Sunday but a version was leaked on Friday by Vote Leave campaign strategist Dominic Cummings.

The DCMS has spent 18 months conducting a series of evidence sessions which have largely focussed on the influence of social media networks, particularly Facebook, and the the use of targeted adverts during the EU referendum.

A lengthier publication of the report is due in the autumn. 

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Vote Leave campaign strategist Dominic Cummings leaked the committee's report on his website.

MPs say in the the leaked report that the “relentless targeting of hyper-partisan views, which play to the fears and prejudices of people, in order to influence their voting plans and their behaviour” posed a greater threat to democracy than more familiar forms of fake news.

This raised concerns about the way online data could be manipulated to impact elections.

The leaked version of the report listed a number of recommendations it said the DCMS committee would make. 

They included: 

  • All online political campaign material should include information on the organisation that published it, and who paid for it, including the establishment of a public register for political advertising.
  • The Electoral Commission should be given the power to impose substantially higher fines than the existing £20,000 for breaches of electoral law.
  • Social networks should be be legally responsible for harmful and illegal content on their platforms. British regulators should undertake an audit of the entire social media advertising industry.
  • The imposition of a limit on how much an individual can give to a political campaign, following Arron Banks’ substantial funding of the pro-Brexit Leave.EU group. British police should investigate the overseas activities of SCL Group, the defunct sister company of Cambridge Analytica.

The Guardian newspaper suggested on Friday that Facebook would not challenge the findings and say it agrees that electoral rule changes are needed.

The social network would reportedly make a point of reiterating it already complies with many of the proposed regulations, and is planning to authenticate and label political ads in the UK and create an archive of those ads that anyone can search.

The leaked report suggested MPs are also concerned about foreign funding of Brexit campaign groups, especially money spent on the leave side.

“Arron Banks is believed to have donated £8.4m to the leave campaign, the largest political donation in British politics, but it is unclear from where he obtained that amount of money,” the MPs concluded in the report.

“He failed to satisfy us that his own donations had, in fact, come from sources within the UK.”

The DCMS committee also concluded, according to the Guardian report, that the term “fake news” should not be used in future proceedings, saying it was “bandied around with no clear idea of what it means, or agreed definition”.

“The term has taken on a variety of meanings, including a description of any statement that is not liked or agreed with by the reader,” the MPs said.

“We recommend that the government rejects the term ‘fake news’, and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’.”