The right to report social media campaigning that a citizen believes to be unlawful and misleading is now under consideration by a Westminster Parliamentary Committee. The approach recommended is to make amendments to the corpus of electoral law. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the UK’s independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, promoting openness by public bodies and data privacy for individuals. Just as the Financial Conduct Authority which oversees the conduct of financial institutions, consumer protection, market integrity, competition and relevant prudential issues is funded by a levy imposed on the banking sector it is proposed that a similar levy on social media and technology giants would allow the ICO to attract talent and to monitor misinformation. This is in harmony with the Electoral Commission’s suggestion that all electronic campaigning should have easily accessible digital imprint requirements, including who is legally responsible for the spending and who has sponsored specific campaigning material. The committee wants the state to table proposals for an educational levy on social media companies that will finance a comprehensive educational framework that will make Digital Literacy the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, (r)iting and (r)ithmetic. The levy will also be used to roll out a unified public awareness initiative that will set the context of social media content, explain to citizens their rights over their data, as well as set out ways in which people can interact with political campaigning on social media.

Many of these measures are coupled to campaign finance and allegations of attempts to influence elections through social media. Furthermore it urges Whitehall to review the existing rules surrounding political work during elections and referenda, including: increasing the length of the regulated period; definitions of what constitutes political campaigning and absolute transparency of online political campaigning; a category introduced for digital spending on campaigns; reducing the time for spending returns to be sent to the Electoral Commission. It is envisaged that the Electoral Commission will establish a code for advertising through social media during election periods. It also urges the Commission to propose more stringent requirements for hefty donors to demonstrate the source of their funds, and backs its suggestion of a change in the rules covering political spending so that limits are put on the amount of money an individual can donate. Other recommendations include a public register for political advertising and a ban on micro-targeted political advertising. It is also suggested that the government consider whether the Advertising Standards Agency could regulate digital advertising to establish clear legal liability for the tech companies to act against harmful and illegal content on their platform including content that has been referred to them for takedown by their users, and other content that should have been easy for the tech companies to identify for themselves.

In these cases, failure to act on behalf of the tech companies could leave them open to legal proceedings launched either by a public regulator, and/or by individuals or organisations who have suffered as a result of this content being freely disseminated on a social media platform. Another suggestion is that the government consider establishing a digital Atlantic Charter as a new mechanism to reassure users that their digital privacy rights are guaranteed after Brexit. The committee also suggests the government avoids using the term ‘fake news’ — and instead puts forward an agreed definition of the words ‘misinformation’ and ‘disinformation’ and that tech companies be subject to security and algorithmic auditing. The committee also floats the idea that the Competition and Markets Authority considers conducting an audit of the operation of the advertising market on social media given the risk of fake accounts leading to ad fraud. Additionally a requirement for tech companies to make full disclosure of targeting used as part of advert transparency to launder ‘dark ads’ away. The committee suggests that the UK’s Defamation Act 2013 means social media companies have a duty to publish and to follow transparent rules — arguing that the Act has provisions which state that if a user is defamed on social media, and the offending individual cannot be identified, the liability rests with the platform. The committee is especially damning of platforms being used to spread hate and fuel violence against ethnic minorities disseminated through fake accounts leading to ethnic cleansing.

In 2016 the Government of Trinidad and Tobago hosted a forum on Campaign Finance Reform. The UK Anti-Corruption Advisor to David Cameron, Sir Eric Pickles, and two representatives from the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr. Tres-Ann Kremer and Lisa Klein provided advice on boosting technical capacity, drafting legislation and enforcement on campaign finance.