U.K. Lawmakers Question Tech Attempts to Stem Coronavirus Conspiracies
U.K. lawmakers questioned whether social media giants are doing enough to stop the spread of false information, after a conspiracy theory that 5G technology is contributing to the Covid-19 pandemic led to a spate of attacks on telecom masts and engineers.
Representatives from Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. were asked to appear before the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee on Thursday to explain how their companies are tackling disinformation. It didn’t go well.
“We will be writing to all of your organizations with a series of questions and, frankly, we will be expressing our displeasure at the quality of the answers -- well, the lack of answers -- we received today,” Chairman Julian Knight concluded after more than an hour of questioning via conference call.
The Silicon Valley giants outlined measures they’ve taken to combat fake news, such as Facebook’s move to restrict WhatsApp message forwarding and promote official guidance on the pandemic. But the panel of British lawmakers often interjected bluntly and deemed the testimony unsatisfactory.
Legislators demanded to know how Twitter was cracking down on world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, if they spread misinformation. The company’s U.K. head of government relations, Katy Minshall, was also grilled about the prevalence of bots on the site, which are automated accounts that perform repetitive tasks, such as sharing fake news stories.
“We’re really proud of the progress we’ve made over the past couple of years,” said Minshall, responding to a question about online abuse.
“Well I don’t know why,” interrupted member of Parliament John Nicolson.
Google public policy manager Alina Dimofte was asked why YouTube didn’t tackle 5G conspiracy videos earlier. It banned such videos on April 7 after a spate of attacks on towers and telecom engineers.
MP Steve Brine said that, during the session, he found a Facebook post from his district inciting the destruction of a 5G mast, which has been baselessly linked to the spread of Covid-19.
More than 60 telecom masts have been attacked in the U.K. in the past few weeks as the theory has gained traction and even made it onto mainstream TV shows.
Brine added that he was “astonished” that Facebook’s U.K. Public Policy Manager Richard Earley had not personally discussed the issues with Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg or its vice president for global affairs and communication, Nick Clegg. Clegg is also the former U.K. deputy prime minister.
TikTok, the most downloaded app in the world outside of China during the crisis, avoided questioning. The relatively new social media site was not asked to appear despite also hosting conspiracy theories.
©2020 Bloomberg L.P.