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Facebook, Twitter face deadline in UK ‘fake news’ probe

BREXIT:The tech giants have been given until Jan. 18 to share information with lawmakers probing suspected interference from Russia in the vote

AFP, LONDON

Social media giants Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc are facing a deadline in Britain to cooperate with an inquiry into so-called fake news in the Brexit referendum campaign, a British parliamentary committee chairman said on Friday.

The companies have been given until Jan. 18 to share information requested by British lawmakers probing suspected Russian interference around the vote, Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee Chair Damian Collins said.

Both his committee and the government would review what action could be taken if the tech titans fail to comply, he said.

“It’s been over a month since we made the request to Facebook for this information and we need to see some action,” Collins said. “They have ignored our requests ... for information on any activity relating to fake accounts and in fact only responded in relation to accounts set up in the USA, but not set up here.”

“We have had similar issues with Twitter and we have gone back to them and asked them for deeper investigations,” he added.

The committee had been clear in its requests to the companies, as it examines influence exerted during last year’s referendum on Britain leaving the EU, he said.

“We want to know what links there are between fake accounts set up here and Russian agencies,” he said. “They have not answered our questions.”

It was “simply not credible” for Facebook to continue profiting from advertising while stonewalling his inquiry, he said.

The company had shown itself capable of acting, such as during the French presidential election when it removed 35,000 accounts, he added.

“They are best placed to do their own investigating as they know the characteristics of their accounts holders and what payments have been made from Russian agencies and what accounts they relate to,” Collins added.

Facebook and Twitter did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

The EU is also looking into whether the social media companies have done enough to prevent misinformation peddling on their platforms. It launched a public consultation on the phenomenon last month, the first step in a process that could see the promotion of bogus news stories made illegal in Europe.

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