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  • Ishbel Macleod

What the Parliamentary report on social media regulation means


Social media managers around the UK woke up on 18th February wondering what the Parliamentary report on Disinformation and Fake News would mean for them – and most have breathed a sigh of relief.

If you weren’t aware, the report came on the back of several issues, such as Cambridge Analytica, fake Russian news stories in the lead up to the US elections, and more – which led to the report dubbing Facebook ‘digital gangsters’.

For those who haven’t taken the time to read the 111 page report, we’ve pulled out five key points for you:

  • Recommendation of a compulsory Code of Ethics, similar to the Ofcom Broadcast Code, which should be overseen by an independent regulator. If social media platforms or companies break the code, the regulator should be able to launch legal proceedings, with the prospect of a large fine

  • The independent regulator should have statutory powers to request information from companies when relevant to enquiries. This will allow them to check on the information held on users, as well as access to algorithms and security measures

  • Suggestions ‘lookalike audiences’ should be made more transparent, and that inferred data in this sense should be protected under the law as personal information

  • The Competitions and Market Authority (CMA) should conduct a comprehensive audit of the operation of the advertising market on social media

  • Promotion of digital literacy, so the public are more aware of how data is used and shared, with the argument that there should be a basic level of privacy

So, what does this mean?

For social media platforms, it’s big news, particularly when it comes to things like the algorithms being made public, and more restrictions being made on what can and cannot be advertised. While political advertising is a sticky situation and channels have begun to open more transparency on this sector, the new rules could make social media advertising less attractive for some companies.

There has already been a crackdown on social media in the form of influencer marketing, with the CMA having unveiled a guide for social media influencers.

On the plus side, for those social agencies and businesses who are using social media correctly and within the limits of the law, there should be very little disruption on a day-to-day level. What it should mean is it is harder for fake companies and spam to create and sponsor posts (“You won’t believe this one tip doctors don’t want you to know – live for 200 years!”) and simply set up another account when detected.

It will mean more accountability – the same level that TV, radio and print advertising has had. While, yes, restriction on lookalike audiences may be frustrating if it happens, there are plenty of other methods and opportunities to target the key markets and by being able to more accurately target people who are open to being reached, won’t that be better for everyone?

It will no doubt take a long time for any of these plans to be developed, but as long as the government works with industry experts, social media companies and independent bodies to create a framework, it could help to create a better social space.