Former Scottish MEP urges Sir Nick Clegg to tackle spread of ‘fake news’ on Facebook

A former Scottish Member of the European Parliament has challenged Sir Nick Clegg to end the spread of ‘fake news’ on Facebook.

Catherine Stihler, who stepped down as an MEP last month to take up the post of Chief Executive at Open Knowledge International, has written to the former Deputy PM to ask him to commit to more transparency from the social media giant ahead of European elections in May.

She has written to Sir Nick, now Facebook’s global affairs boss, to ask for his assistance in resuscitating the three foundations of ‘tolerance, facts and ideas’ in the wake of a series of rows about disinformation on social media, particularly in connection with the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Ms Stihler has asked for detailed statistics on efforts by Facebook to tackle disinformation, an update on the number of fake accounts the platform continues to host, what progress is being made on working with third-part fact-checkers in the EU27, and a response to last week’s Commons report which concluded that Facebook needs stricter regulation to end the spread of ‘fake news’.

Catherine Stihler, CEO of Open Knowledge International

She wrote: “It is imperative that we do not allow disinformation and fake news to blight this year’s European Parliamentary elections.

“The acceptance of basic facts is under threat, with many expert views dismissed and a culture of ‘anti-intellectualism’ from those on the extremes of politics.

“The way forward is to resuscitate the three foundations of tolerance, facts and ideas, to prevent the drift to the extremes, and Facebook has a vital role to play in that.

“With the rise of extremist parties across the continent, we owe it to the people of Europe to let the facts be heard in the run-up to these crucial elections.”

Stihler was among 35 signatories in a recent letter to Facebook from the Mozilla Foundation which made the following demands:

  • Roll out a functional, open Ad Archive API that enables advanced research and development of tools that analyse political ads served to Facebook users in the EU.
  • Ensure that all political advertisements are clearly distinguished from other content and are accompanied by key targeting criteria such as sponsor identity and amount spent on the platform in all EU countries.
  • Cease harassment of good faith researchers who are building tools to provide greater transparency into the advertising on your platform.

Rob Leathern, Product Director at Facebook, has since said the Ad API will be opened in ‘late March’. In a series of Twitter posts, he said: “We’re committed to a new level of transparency for ads on Facebook. It’s why we’re opening the Ad API in late March – same time as our already-announced program to label political ads before the European Parliament election – so people on & off Facebook can analyze political ads & see them in a library for 7 years. We’re also bringing transparency tools to political ads in India, Israel, Ukraine, Nigeria, and globally this June. This work helps protect elections and we hope others join us.”