A parliamentary committee is trying to get heavy with Facebook and Twitter over the release of details about Russian elections interference.
Damian Collins, chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport select committee, which is looking into so-called fake news, has given the companies until 18 January to correct their failure to hand over information he requested about Russian
misinformation campaigns on their platforms. He said:
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
In a letter to Twitter this month, Collins wrote:
The information you have now shared with us is completely inadequate ... It seems odd that so far we have received more information about activities that have taken place on your platform from journalists and academics than from you.
Terry Burns is set to become the new chairman of Ofcom in January 2018. As part of the approval process he was asked to appear before parliament's Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee. And the topic of conversation was internet
censorship, in particular censorship of social media.
He was asked his thoughts on whether social media platforms such as Facebook should be recognised as publishers and therefore regulated. He responded:
I think it's a very big issue. It's becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between broadcasting and what one is capable of watching on the internet.
However, I think in many ways the main issue here is in terms of legislation and it is an issue for parliament rather than Ofcom.
I've been following this issue about platforms versus publishers... There must be a question of how sustainable that is. I don't want to take a position on that at this stage. As far as I'm concerned the rules under which we are working at
the moment is that they are defined as platforms.
There will be an ongoing debate about that, for the moment that's where they are. I find it difficult to believe that over time there isn't going to be further examination of this issue.
Asked whether there was a role for Ofcom to monitor and check social media, Lord Burns said:
I don't see any reason why if parliament wanted Ofcom to do that it shouldn't [do so]... I'm not quite sure who else would do it.
Update: New Chairman of Ofcom
16th December 2017 See Ofcom press release
The Government has appointed Lord (Terry) Burns as the next Chairman of Ofcom.
This follows the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee pre-appointment hearing with Lord Burns. Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has now confirmed the appointment .
Lord Burns was until January 2016 the Chairman of Channel 4, having served for six years at the public service broadcaster. He has also served as Chairman of a number of private and public-sector organisations, including Marks & Spencer,
Santander UK, Welsh Water, the National Lottery Commission and The Royal Academy of Music.
From 2004 to 2006, Lord Burns was Independent Adviser to the Secretary of State on the BBC Charter Review. He sits as a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords.
As previously announced, Dame Patricia Hodgson is stepping down as Chairman of Ofcom at the end of the year. Lord Burns will take up the role from 1 January 2018.
This is a disgraceful report showing that politicians think that they can escape criticism by censoring the likes of Facebook and Twitter. As far as I can see the entire report is a one sided affair trying to censor the storm of Twitter
insults received by politicians, notably Dianne Abbot.
Not once does it mention that some of the criticism may be deserved. Perhaps if politicians want a more pleasant reception from the people, then perhaps that they should do such simple things as not fiddle expenses, answer people's questions, and
not steer every single TV sentence into a chance to repeat inane political slogans. And then of course perhaps they should listen and respond to the people's concern about losing their jobs, housing, benefits and use of the NHS. And whilst they
are at it get more houses built. Fuck 'em, they deserve to be slagged off.
Anyway they try to justify the censorship in their press release:
The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life today published its report on intimidation in public life.
The independent Committee, which advises the Prime Minister on standards of conduct across public life, has made a package of recommendations to address the threats and intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates and others. The
Government should bring forward legislation to shift the liability of illegal content online towards social media companies.
Social media companies must ensure they are able to make decisions quickly and consistently on the takedown of intimidatory content online
Government should consult on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law of intimidating Parliamentary candidates and party campaigners.
The political parties must work together to develop a joint code of conduct on intimidatory behaviour during election campaigns by December 2018. The code should be jointly enforced by the political parties.
The National Police Chiefs Council should ensure that local police forces have sufficient training to enable them to effectively investigate offences committed through social media.
Lord Bew, Chair of the Committee, said:
This level of vile and threatening behaviour, albeit by a minority of people, against those standing for public office is unacceptable in a healthy democracy. We cannot get to a point where people are put off standing, retreat from debate, and
even fear for their lives as a result of their engagement in politics. This is not about protecting elites or stifling debate, it is about ensuring we have a vigorous democracy in which participants engage in a responsible way which recognises
others' rights to participate and to hold different points of view.
The increasing scale and intensity of this issue demands a serious response. We are not alone in believing that more must be done to combat online behaviour in particular and we have been persuaded that the time has come for the government to
legislate to shift the liability for illegal content online towards social media companies, and to consult on the introduction of a new electoral offence.
We believe that the parties themselves must show greater leadership. They must call out members who engage in this appalling behaviour, and make sure appropriate sanctions are imposed swiftly and consistently. They have an important duty of care
to their candidates, members and supporters. Intimidation takes place across the political spectrum, both in terms of those engaging in and those receiving intimidation. The leadership of political parties must recognise this.
We have heard evidence that intimidatory behaviour can stem from of our current political culture, with low levels of trust in politicians and a feeling of frustration and alienation by some people. Against that backdrop, it is down to all in
public life to play their part in restoring and protecting our public political culture by setting a tone which respects the right of every individual to participate and does not, however inadvertently, open a door to intimidation.
Many of the recommendations we are making today are not limited solely to election periods but will have wider relevance across our public life.
Index rejects UK committee's recommendation to outsource censorship
Index on Censorship rejects many of the suggestions made in a report into intimidation of UK public officials by a committee tasked with examining standards in public life.
The report recommends 204 among other things 204 creating legislation to make social media companies liable for illegal content and increasing the use of automation to remove content that is not only illegal but intimidatory.
Like many such reports, the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life makes the mistake of lumping together illegal content, intimidatory content 204 which the committee itself admits is hard to define 204 and abusive content, said
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship.
While some content outlined in the report 204 such as threats of rape 204 can clearly be defined as harassing or intimidatory in nature, deciding whether content is illegal or not largely depends on understanding the context 204 and that is
something that neither 'automated techniques' nor speedy removals can address.
We are deeply worried by the growing trend in which democratic governments devolve responsibility for making decisions that should be made by the police or the judiciary to unaccountable private bodies to censor speech.
In addition to a number of recommendations for social media companies to take action, the committee's report also recommends that press regulators should extend their codes of conduct to include intimidatory behaviour.
This report uses language that would not be out of place in any dictator's handbook, said Ginsberg. The idea that the press should include in their code of conduct an element that addresses whether content could 'unduly undermine public trust in
the political system' sounds like a gift to any politician wanting to challenge reports with which they disagree. Rather than enhance democracy and freedoms, as this report claims to want to do, this risks damaging it further.
Index welcomes the fact that the committee deemed new criminal offences specific to social media unnecessary, but cautions that devolving power to social media companies to police content could have significant risks in scooping up legitimate as
well as illegal content because of the sheer volume of material being posted online every second.
Index would also strongly caution against any engagement with other governments at the international level on what constitutes hate crime and intimidation online that could result in a race to the bottom that adds further global restrictions on
The Daily Mail reports on Labour amendments to the Data Protection Bill designed to restrict press investigations in the name of data protection, and of course to resurrect unjust press censorship ideas suggested by Leveson
The Daily Mail explains that criminals and corrupt politicians and businessmen could escape exposure under a new attempt to restrict Press freedom.
A fresh bid to restrict the rights of journalists and the media to inquire into crime and corruption involves attempts to change a data law that is going through Parliament.
One Labour amendment to the Data Protection Bill would mean that the Information Commissioner would have powers to decide whether codes of conduct under which journalists work should be recognised by the new law.
A second amendment would rewrite the new law so that the unjust censorship powers suggested in the second half of the Leveson inquiry into Press standards would go ahead.
Currently the proposed legislation provides an exemption for journalists who access and store personal information without consent when exposing wrongdoing. This means that individuals under investigation by journalists would not be able to
interfere with their inquiries or block publication of stories that would bring to light wrongdoing.
However a series of attempts have been made to introduce changes to the Bill which would remove safeguards for freedom of expression, bind journalists and make their inquiries either difficult or impossible.
Criminals, corrupt business leaders and cheating MPs could avoid being exposed under a fresh assault on Press freedom.
Amendments to the Data Protection Bill going through Parliament would make it easier for the rich and powerful to escape being held to account.
Tabled by Tory peer John Attlee and crossbencher Shiela Hollins, the changes would make it harder to carry out investigative journalism and protect the identity of sources who reveal wrongdoing.
They would affect all publications, from national newspapers and broadcasters including the BBC, to small community newspapers, charities and think-tanks.
Critics also fear that a second raft of amendments is being used as a backdoor route to force publishers to join the injust regulator Impress, which depends on money from the former Formula One boss Max Mosley.
The latest moves threaten 300 years of Press freedom by undermining the principle that journalists have the right to print whatever information they believe is in the public interest, and only answer for it to the courts afterward.
Last night Lord Grade, a former chairman of the BBC and ITV, said: Any legislative move that restricts a journalist's legitimate inquiries should be opposed. The current laws and codes of conduct are sufficient to protect people from unwarranted
intrusion and exposure.
Under the existing Bill, as proposed by the Government, the exemption for journalists depends on whether their reporting is in the public interest, as defined by the Ofcom code, the BBC editorial guidelines or the Independent Press Standards
Organisation's Editors' Code of Practice. But some peers want to remove Ipso from the legislation and replace it with the injust press censor Impress, which covers only a handful of hyper-local publications and blogs.
Robert Skidelsky, one of the peers seeking to have Impress's code of practice recognised in the Bill, is a close friend of Max Mosley.
The UK Parliament's All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution has launched an inquiry on pop-up brothels using short term lets.
The APPG inquiry will obviously be biased against sex workers as it describes such brothels in pejorative way explaining that the investigation has been prompted by growing reports of organised crime groups establishing 'pop-up' brothels to
sexually exploit women
It will now look to gather evidence on the scale of the practice, who is involved, and what action the Government should take.
You may recall the APPG's previous inquiry into prostitution in 2014 and its remit to develop proposals for government action with a focus on tackling demand for the sex trade. Unsurprisingly, the inquiry's conclusion was to recommend the
blanket criminalisation of sex workers' clients, as well as targeting sex workers with draconian ASBOs, which carry up to five years in prison if breached. These proposals were influenced unduly by the original secretariat of that group, a
Christian charity called CARE, which has a track record of homophobia and fundamentalist Christian views. This inquiry was discredited when the chair of the APPG refused to publish the evidence on which its recommendations were apparently based.
The demands that sex workers are making are being disparaged and ignored. We have repeatedly told parliament, including the APPG, that decriminalisation in New Zealand has made it safer for sex workers and that those who claim to want to abolish
prostitution must say how else we are supposed to survive.
Austerity cuts (which have targeted women in particular) and policies such as benefit sanctions have led to a big increase in prostitution like in Sheffield which reported a 166% increase. Why aren't these issues being addressed by politicians
who claim to want to save women from prostitution? Or why not an inquiry into the epidemic of violence sex workers are facing? Our experience shows that when sex workers report violence they often face prosecution themselves while little is done
to catch their attackers.
We want to stop this Committee in its tracks and make them listen to people who have to live with the horrendous impacts of the unjust prostitution laws.
You'll see that the questions are biased, make various unproven assumptions and misdirect people into answering in a particular way. We need as many people as possible (and particularly sex workers) to respond to the inquiry so that our shared
views are reflected in the final report.
Adverts for the Russian propagander channel RT that tell London commuters to watch to find out who we are planning to hack next show it is the Russian government's mouthpiece, Labour has said.
Shadow Culture Secretary Tom Watson called on TV censor Ofcom to investigate RT, formerly known as Russia Today, over the advert running on the bus and Tube network, saying it is not funny and caused significant alarm. Watson wrote in a letter to
Ofcom chief executive Sharon White:
This has caused significant alarm in light of the fact the Russian state has been linked to a series of cyberattacks across the world. I appreciate the RT advert in question may have been intended as ironic or humorous but it isn't funny.
At a time when there are grave international and domestic concerns following hacking by the Russian state, this provocative advert is a tacit admission that RT is the mouthpiece of that state.
Watson's intervention comes after Boris Johnson condemned Labour MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn, for appearing on the channel for interview, despite the fact many Tories, including his own father, had done the same.
The hacking advert is one of a series of provocative ads running on London buses and on the Tube, in which the channel mocks accusations of bias and cites them as a reason to watch it. Another advert ironically notes:
Missed the Train?
Lost a vote?
Blame it on us!
An Ofcom spokesman said: We have received Mr Watson's letter and we'll respond shortly.
The Advertising Standards Agency told HuffPost it had received a complaint, which accused the advert of being offensive as it likely to cause fear or distress (by suggesting a foreign power can disrupt a democratic system). A spokesman added it
was still being assessed to see whether there was grounds for an investigation.
Loot boxes are a revenue creating facility where gamers are assisted in their quests by the real money purchase of loot boxes that contain a random collections of goodies that help game progress. loot boxes are found in many commercially
successful games, such as Overwatch, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Halo 5: Guardians, Battlefield 1, Paragon, Gears of War 4, and FIFA 17.
The pros and cons of this method of revenue raising has been passionately debated in games forums and teh debate seems to have widened out to more regulatory spheres.
Last week the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB), who rate games for North America declared that loot boxes, despite their inherent randomness, do not constitute a form of gambling. The reason, simply put, is that while you don't know
what you're going to get out of them, you know you're going to get something -- unlike a lottery ticket, say, where the great likelihood is that your money is just going up in smoke.
The same opinion is reflected by PEGI who rate games for Europe. PEGI operations director Dirk Bosmans told Wccftech:
In short, our approach is similar to that of ESRB. The main reason for this is that we cannot define what constitutes gambling, That is the responsibility of a national gambling commission. Our gambling content
descriptor is given to games that simulate or teach gambling as it's done in real life in casinos, racetracks, etc. If a gambling commission would state that loot boxes are a form of gambling, then we would have to adjust our criteria to that.
And for solidarity the UK games trade group Ukie agreed. Dr. Jo Twist of Ukie said
Loot boxes are already covered by and fully compliant with existing relevant UK regulations. The games sector has a history of open and constructive dialogue with regulators, ensuring that games fully comply with UK law and
has already discussed similar issues as part of last year's Gambling Commission paper on virtual currencies, esports and social gaming.
Not everyone agrees though, a British parliamentarian gave a little push to the UK government by submitting the questions:
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what steps she plans to take to help protect vulnerable adults and children from illegal gambling, in-game gambling and loot boxes within computer games.
To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, what assessment the Government has made of the effectiveness of the Isle of Man's enhanced protections against illegal and in-game gambling and loot boxes; and what discussions
she has had with Cabinet colleagues on adopting such protections in the UK.
It seems that the Isle of Mann already sees loot boxes as being liable to gambling controls.
Tracey Crouch, from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport responded in a statement, pointing out that definitions and protections already exist regarding loot boxes and other in-game currencies, referencing a paper published by the UK
Gambling Commission earlier this year. She said:
Where items obtained in a computer game can be traded or exchanged outside the game platform they acquire a monetary value, and where facilities for gambling with such items are offered to consumers located in Britain a Gambling Commission
licence is required. If no licence is held, the Commission uses a wide range of regulatory powers to take action.
So for the moment it seems that for the moment the status quo will be maintained, but in this age of cotton wool and snowflakes, I wouldn't bet on it.
Lord Storey Not So Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Education)
To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they plan to strengthen the broadcasting code in relation to smoking on reality TV shows, particularly those aimed at young people.
Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
My Lords, as the independent regulator, decisions on amending the Broadcasting Code are rightly a matter for Ofcom. Ofcom takes the protection of children and young people very seriously, and that is why there are already specific restrictions
on the portrayal of smoking on television.
I thank the Minister for his reply. I do not know whether he is a regular watcher of Love Island, but the ITV website describes that programme as an, emotional feast of lust and passion in the sun.
The same website says that the programme captures 56% share of 16-34 viewers.
On this programme, those contestants are regularly smoking. What message does that send to young people -- that I can live a glamorous life if I smoke as well? I am surprised that the Ofcom Broadcasting Code says that smoking must not be,
"glamorised in ... programmes likely to be widely seen, heard or accessed by under-eighteens unless there is editorial justification".
Does the Minister think that Ofcom should take action on this matter?
Lord Ashton of Hyde
My Lords, I am not a regular watcher of Love Island, but I cannot help noticing that the House is unusually full today. Obviously, as I said, it is a matter for Ofcom. The Broadcasting Code is there to be regulated by Ofcom, and that is what
Ofcom is there for. Any complaints about a programme will be investigated by Ofcom, and it is up to anyone who has concerns about smoking in this programme to complain to Ofcom. Incidentally, to put this into perspective, Ofcom had just under
15,000 complaints last year and 75 related to smoking on Love Island.
The chairman of the media censor Ofcom has said she believes internet businesses such as Google and Facebook are publishers, and so should be regulated by the state.
Patricia Hodgson also revealed that the board of Ofcom discussed how the internet could be regulated in the future at a strategy day last week, although she said this was ultimately a matter for the government.
Hodgson was speaking to MPs at a hearing of the digital, culture, media and sport committee. Asked about the rise of fake news and whether internet companies should face greater regulation, Hodgson said:
Those particular distribution systems [Facebook, Google, Twitter etc] are not within Ofcom's responsibility but we feel very strongly about the integrity of news in this country and we are totally supportive of steps that should and need to be
taken to improve matters.
My personal view is I see this as an issue that is finally being grasped -- certainly within the EU, certainly within this country -- and to my amazement and interest, being asked in the United States as a result of the potential Russian
scandals. My personal view is that they are publishers but that is only my personal view, that is not an Ofcom view. As I said, Ofcom is simply concerned about the integrity of news and very supportive of the debate and the steps that are being
Theresa May's spokesman said Hodgson's comments were a matter for her as an independent regulator, but indicated that ministers were sympathetic.
Sharon White, the chief executive of Ofcom, said she was wary of regulating internet companies. We feel strongly that the platforms as publishers have got more responsibility to ensure the right content, she said. I don't think it's a question of
regulation, which I think has a fuzzy boundary with censorship, but I think we feel strongly that the platforms ought to be doing more to ensure their content can be trusted.