UK Proposes Internet Laws, Reuters to Fact-Check Facebook

The United Kingdom proposed that its media regulator Ofcom take on the responsibility of regulating Internet content, in part to encourage Facebook, YouTube and other Internet behemoths to police their own platforms. Ofcom would be able to issue penalties against companies lax in fighting “harmful and illegal terrorist and child abuse content.” Many details have yet to be filled in. Meanwhile, Reuters has formed a new Fact Check business unit, which is poised to become a third-party partner aimed at ferreting out misinformation on Facebook.

The New York Times reports that the UK’s plan for Ofcom didn’t detail “what penalties the new regulator would have at its disposal or how it would keep tabs on the billions of pieces of user-generated content that are posted on the social media platforms,” but the government — which said it will release details this spring — already “suggested that the regulator could issue fines, block access to websites and make individual executives legally liable for harmful content spread on their platforms.”

The move took place as several European countries push for more Internet regulation and the EU considers “changes to laws that protect Internet companies from being liable for content posted on their platforms.” The EU also enacted the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, which has resulted in “billions of dollars in penalties against Google, Apple, Amazon and others for anticompetitive behavior.”

At the UK’s Southampton University, professor Wendy Hall described Europe’s move towards a “middle path” between China’s “top-down government control and censorship” and the U.S.’ market-driven approach lacking regulation. “There’s not an easy solution if you’re not an authoritarian government,” she said.

UK officials issued recommendations last year to regulate the Internet, which will “be debated in the months ahead [and] would apply to Internet platforms that carry user-generated content, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.”

TechCrunch reports that, “the four-person team from Reuters will review user-generated video and photos as well as news headlines and other content in English and Spanish submitted by Facebook or flagged by the wider Reuters editorial team … [and] then publish their findings on the new Reuters Fact Check blog, listing the core claim and why it’s false, partially false, or true.”

Among the content the team will look for are deepfakes. Facebook will rely on their findings “to label misinformation posts as false and downrank them in the News Feed algorithm to limit their spread.” Reuters director of global partnerships Jessica April would not disclose the terms of the financial agreement but did confirm that Facebook pays for this service.

Facebook, which offers fact-checking in 60 countries, has also partnered with The Associated Press, PolitiFact, Factcheck.org, and four others. Reuters’ four staffers will be divided between Washington, D.C. and Mexico City. According to Reuters’ global head of UGC newsgathering Hazel Baker, “the fact-checking team could grow over time, as it plans to partner with Facebook through the 2020 election and beyond.”

Facebook stated it can “reduce the further spread of this content by 80 percent using downranking once content is deemed false.”