EXCL Labour say government online crackdown must also 'protect our democracy'

Posted On: 
4th April 2019

A government online crackdown must contain measures to prevent voters being duped by social media ads, Labour has demanded.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has joined the call to regulate internet giants
PA Images

Ministers are expected to publish the Online Harms White Paper on Monday, setting out ways to protect people when they use the internet.

It will outline measures aimed at cracking down on a range of threats such as cyber-bulling and hate speech. 

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But Labour have warned that it will fail if it does not include measures to "protect our democracy" by dealing with targeted ads spreading fake political news on sites like Facebook.

In a letter to Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, seen by PoliticsHome, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and shadow digital minister Liam Byrne say: "One of the tests of the forthcoming white paper is: does it protect our democracy? If the answer is no the exercise will have failed.

"Parliament’s DCMS Select Committee has already warned of the serious risks of inaction and proposed reforms that the Government have not responded to.

"The Electoral Commission have also proposed changes to rules regulating political campaigning online and these have not been responded to.  

"Even Mark Zuckerberg, who to many represents the epitome of all that is wrong with the social media giants, has said this past week that Governments need to regulate internet giants to protect ‘election integrity’. I hope your government will not introduce lower standards than even Mark Zuckerberg proposes."

They add: "With a general election or referendum looming it is the Government’s urgent responsibility to take action to protect the integrity of our democratic processes.

"Failure to do so in the Online Harms White Paper would be a dereliction of duty to our democracy.

"We hope that does not prove to be the case."

Their call comes as documents obtained by The Guardian found two “grassroots” Facebook campaigns were actually linked to Conservative former election strategist Sir Lynton Crosby.

A DCMS spokesperson said: "The Government will soon publish a White Paper which will set out the responsibilities of online platforms, how these responsibilities should be met and what would happen if they are not.

"Tackling disinformation and a statutory ‘duty of care’ on companies are all measures we have considered as part of our work."