U.K. Is Still Considering Taxing Facebook to Help Fight Fake News

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government said it’s still considering taxing U.S. tech companies to help fund efforts to combat the spread of fake news on the internet, and a recommendation will be made before the spring.

British Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright told a U.K. parliamentary committee Tuesday he had not discussed a so-called levy with Facebook Inc. but that “if we’re going to carry out additional activity, it’s got to be funded somehow.”

“If Facebook says it doesn’t want to pay it,” Wright said of the possible tax, “that will not be the answer to the question of whether or not we should have one.”

Wright was answering questions from members of the U.K.’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sports committee, which is investigating the impact of social media and online advertising on recent elections. The same committee heard evidence earlier this year from Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer, and whistle-blower Christopher Wylie, as governments worldwide grapple with whether internet companies should be regulated.

Banking Parallel

A tax on such businesses, which could be used to increase the capabilities of the Information Commissioner’s Office, was included as a recommendation by the committee in July. It was suggested the recommendation would work in a similar way to how the British banking industry pays for the upkeep of its regulator.

Wright said Facebook had “demonstrated some progress” toward making political advertising on its platform more transparent, but that it’s “not sufficient” in the U.K. compared to the progress made in the U.S.

A spokesman for Facebook in the U.K. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wright said the government’s Online Harms White Paper -- an explanatory precursor to the introduction of any legislation -- would be published before March, but acknowledged that any suggestion of regulating the internet would be met with strong opposition.

“There will be those who will say that any method to restrict online activity or restricting online entities is an unacceptable interference of the internet,” he said.

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