Posts by Fair Vote Project

Antitrust Investigations into Facebook are Long Overdue

08/06/2021 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “Antitrust Investigations into Facebook are Long Overdue”

The European Commission and UK Regulators have formally opened antitrust investigations into Facebook.

It’s about time. 

The investigations, while not focused on the significant democratic harms enabled by the platform, are beginning to scratch the surface of Facebook’s unethical data harvesting business model, back in the spotlight again recently when a data breach of over 500 million users was made public.

The platform has nearly 3 billion monthly active users, all being discreetly surveilled in the background of nearly every single one of Facebook’s features. 

Both investigations are primarily concerned with the vast troves of user data that Facebook holds, and whether that gives them an undue advantage in the online advertising market (it seems fairly obvious that it may). The European Commission is also concerned with whether Facebook benefits from holding data on rival advertisers (again, it probably does). 

This gets to the core of why this platform is so powerful, and in terms of democratic health and societal cohesion, so destructive.

While investigating Facebook’s unfair monopolisation of digital advertising is worthwhile, it gives credence to what activists like us have been saying for years: data-driven targeted advertising, especially when it comes to political ads, is short-sighted, dangerous and unethical. Targeted controversy generates clicks, and clicks generate revenue. Facebook has a clear incentive to undermine truth and democracy.

Fair Vote UK is working to build a stronger coalition around online safety. We hope to use investigations like these as stepping stones to tackling the core problem – an immoral and unsustainable business model that is desperately calling for regulation. 

Some experts have called for nationalising Facebook, arguing that “social media platforms need to be treated like public roads, not private malls.” It doesn’t have to come to that, but Facebook’s extremely toxic business model can not go on much longer without a repeat of January 6th (or something even worse). Let’s tackle this obvious problem before it truly gets out of hand. 

We can’t do it without you. Let’s end the wild west era of technology, and usher in a more stable, regulated and ethical internet. Support us

This Year at Fair Vote UK

01/06/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “This Year at Fair Vote UK”

It’s been a long year. 

Although we’ve repeatedly seen democracy imperiled by an autocratic, mismanaged government and a poorly-handled pandemic, we’ve been fighting back tirelessly for a healthy, functional and inclusive democratic system. 

Here are some of the highlights: 

– In June 2020, we launched our report Defending Democracy in the Age of Pandemic following a comprehensive consultation in April 2020. The report advocated for intensifying the digitisation of Parliament and the creation of a codified crisis-response protocol that can be rapidly applied. It maintained, however, that solutions related to elections should remain low-tech, as digital election reforms should happen during more stable periods. 

– Worked with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Electoral Campaigning Transparency to advance the 20 recommendations in our January 2020 Report, Defending Democracy in the Digital Age. We’ve made strides on recommendations #7, 8, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 20, including Digital Imprints in Scotland, long-term digital education campaigns, and working with Parliamentarians towards a more robust online harms regime. To that end, we’ve replied to Full Fact’s Framework for Information Incidents consultation to advance the critically important aims laid out in our APPG report. Progress is steadily being made on other recommendations as well. 

–  Fought for an online safety regimen that is fit for purpose. We’ve criticised the government’s draft Online Safety Bill for its contradictory statutes and flimsy regulatory proposals. We’ve also participated in a virtual event in Parliament organised by a number of APPGs, the Football Association, Reset Tech, Compassion in Politics, with guest speakers Thierry Henry and Lucy Bronze to discuss the tremendous impacts of online abuse and the limitations of the draft online safety bill, cementing alliances and relationships to continue the fight for online safety. 

– Fought for our electoral integrity across every corner of the UK, strongly opposing proposed Voter ID laws and anti-protest bills that threaten to exclude UK citizens from their right to democratic participation. We’ve worked with not only the Electoral Commission but parties across England, Scotland and Wales to try and crack down on fraudulent campaigning practices and strengthen electoral systems against both digital and pandemic-related challenges. 

– Launched the Fair Play Pledge campaign with Jackie Weaver. With thousands of candidates signing the pledge both directly and through their respective political parties, we’ve not only secured commitments to champion democracy from recently elected local officials, but forged lasting relationships which will enable further democracy-strengthening work at the local level in the future. 

– Fair Vote UK’s director, Kyle Taylor, published the Little Black of Data & Democracy, a comprehensive overview of social media’s profound impact on democratic health and our own personal lives.  

A lot more is in progress – defending democracy is a constant uphill struggle, a victory that is never fully won. 

Your support made a real difference for us and this country, and will continue to in the future. We couldn’t have done any of it without you. 

We also want to thank the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust for continuously backing our efforts and empowering us to take much needed action against the wide array of challenges encroaching on the health of our democracy. 

There is much more to come. Stay tuned.

Job Description: Legislative Director

28/05/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Job Description: Legislative Director”

Job Description: Legislative Director

Fair Vote UK is hiring a legislative director to lead in its campaigning and lobbying work around the Westminster Online Safety Bill (as it impacts democracy and society) and Electoral Integrity Bill as well as drive similar devolved legislative work in Scotland and Wales. While the position and approach have been agreed, it is now time to ensure that safeguarding and future-proofing UK elections specifically and the democratic environment broadly are prioritised.

 

In this role you’ll:

  • Work with our existing coalition of MPs to drive policy aims;
  • Expand our MP network, building relationships in all parties;
  • Do the same as above with Welsh AMs and Scottish MSPs;
  • Engage in coalition work across the democracy sector, sometimes leading, sometimes supporting, always collaborating when it makes sense;
  • Oversee the day-to-day with the campaigns and policy officer’s work;
  • Have the space to be innovative, creative and strategic.

 

Ideally, you’d have:

  • Experience constructing, amending and engaging with Parliamentary legislation;
  • Experience running public-facing campaigns;
  • Experience working in coalition with other civil society orgs;
  • Knowledge of electoral law in the UK;
  • Knowledge of big tech’s impact on democracy and the reform agenda;
  • Some public speaking/MP communication experience.

 

This role is right for you if:

  • You have 4+ years of experience, though don’t let this dissuade if you think you’ve got what it takes to deliver;
  • You are looking for a small team that is nimble, responsive and focused on outcomes over increasing twitter followers;
  • You are looking for flexibility. We aim to get the job done, not watch the clock.
  • You care about democracy and the rule of law.

 

The details are:

  • Flexible at 3-4 days a week over 5 at FTE of £38,000-£45,000 per year;
  • 12-month consultant contract with paid annual leave at FTE of 25 days a year plus bank holidays;
  • Starting as soon as possible.

 

Fair Vote UK was set up in the wake of the Vote Leave and Cambridge Analytica scandals. Our mission is to tackle the issue of data misuse, voter manipulation and lack of transparency in elections head-on. We are committed to ensuring the institutions that protect our democratic processes are fit for purpose in a digital age. The next year is consequential for this agenda.

Fair Vote UK is an equal opportunity employer. We value a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture. Fair Vote UK encourages applications from all qualified individuals without regard to race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, marital status, citizenship, disability, veteran status and record of arrest or conviction, or any other characteristic protected under the law.

 

How to apply:

  • Send a CV, covering letter, social media profiles, link to your LinkedIn or whatever you think necessary to make your case for the role to info@fairvote.uk and we’ll reply to everyone we are able to interview!

 

Self-Contradictory Online Safety Bill Falls Short

21/05/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Self-Contradictory Online Safety Bill Falls Short”

The government released its new Online Safety Bill Draft on May 12th, which the DCMS committee claims will “keep children safe, stop racial hate, and protect democracy online”. The draft bill unfortunately falls far short of what is necessary to achieve those goals. 

The new regulations impose a “duty of care” on digital platforms to monitor harmful and false content themselves. Ofcom, the UK’s regulator of broadcast media and telecommunications, is set to take on the additional role of internet watchdog, with powers to sanction companies as much as £18 million or 10% of global turnover (whichever is higher). It will also have the capacity to block access to sites entirely. 

The legislation, attempting to carve out protections for journalism and freedom of speech, ultimately contradicts itself. Online publication websites will not be in scope of this legislation, and articles shared on social media from “recognised news publishers” will be exempted from the usual requirements. Platforms will have to grant fast-track appeals processes to journalists whose content was removed, and “will be held to account by Ofcom for the arbitrary removal of journalistic content”, according to the DCMS committee. This creates a safe zone for certain types of content, which unfortunately are very poorly categorised. 

For example, the legislation sets out provisions for citizen journalists, whose content will be treated the same as professional journalism content – that is, exempt from hate speech and misinformation requirements. Anyone can be a citizen journalist and use those provisions to spread hateful speech or false and misleading content. 

Similarly, “political opinion” is protected from the new requirements, allowing racist, homophobic, transphobic speech to be laundered as “political” and therefore out of scope. 

The legislation attempts to frame tech regulation as a free speech issue which is misleading and inaccurate. Nobody is arguing that a person doesn’t have a right to free speech. The use of a privately owned social media company’s platform to freely reach millions of people regardless of the harm caused is not even comparable.

The problem is that the legislation, in the name of free speech, provides no functional mechanism for distinguishing between content that is in scope and out of scope, giving tech companies the capability to ignore their duty of care in many, many instances. 

This gets to the core of why this legislation falls so short – social media companies are still largely responsible for regulating content on their platforms and the bill gives them many openings to neglect doing that duty diligently. 

The core cause of harm online has more to do with the for-profit business model and the algorithm-driven delivery that all favour extremist content because it drives more engagement, which leads to more ad sales, which leads to more money. These companies are never going to tackle the problem on their own, and as long as bills like this one give them a viable excuse to not enforce and moderate properly, they will continue not to. Supposed “self-regulation” models – like the Facebook Oversight Board –  are not viable for the same, very obvious reason: platforms are not fit to regulate themselves because their business interests diverge from societal interests. Could you imagine allowing big tobacco to set up and fund their own oversight board to make determinations about who they should sell cigarettes too? It’s utter nonsense disguised by a layer of legitimacy. These companies will not make hard choices that hurt their bottom line. It’s up to the democratically elected governments to step in on behalf of citizens, with societal concerns at the forefront.

No, Trump’s Ban Was Not “Upheld”: Facebook’s Oversight Board is a Charade

05/05/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “No, Trump’s Ban Was Not “Upheld”: Facebook’s Oversight Board is a Charade”

The headlines and social media narrative are generally positive today, as the Facebook Oversight Board claims it will “uphold the ban” on Donald Trump’s account. It may seem like a good thing that for the near future at least, Trump won’t be on the platform. In reality, we are playing with fire. The board has not upheld the ban, rather it has kicked back the decision-making power to Facebook and Zuckerberg, opening up the very real possibility of Trump causing havoc on the site once again within 6 months. 

The announcement was carefully worded, but the reality of the situation is clear. Although the beginning of the announcement states that the board “has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7th, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content”, it later goes on to say that the board “insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules applied to other users of its platform”. This essentially negates the first sentence. Since the board insists Facebook decide on a “proportionate” response, effectively allowing them to make the entire decision, they are not upholding anything. 

The Oversight Board desperately wants to have it both ways – but they can’t get credit for banning Trump without actually banning him. Facebook’s narrative, that the O.B. is an independent “supreme court” that will hold Facebook accountable, is now demonstrably a lie intended to cover up the company’s countless unethical actions and practices. The board accomplishes nothing more than allowing Facebook to pretend to hold itself accountable, while remaining entirely opaque and facing no real consequences whatsoever. 

Just to recap, here are some of the things Facebook does not want to be held accountable for:  

Playing a role in the attempted coup on January 6th 2021

– Holding indefinite records of user information 

A data breach affecting over 530 million people, which they chose not to notify users about

Running an exploitative, privacy-opposed business model based on selling personal information to advertisers 

Providing a breeding ground for conspiracy theories, extremism, vitriol, and misinformation

Need we go on? 

Right-wing insurrectionism, extremism and disinformation is still running rampant on Facebook, and very little has been put forward to alleviate the severe toxicity of the dialogue taking place on the site. The Trump ban was always a distraction, and banning him permanently was always the absolute bare minimum Facebook could have done. 

The crux of the problem is that the board was created for the sole purpose of obfuscating Facebook’s internal failure to regulate its own platform. It is designed to give the appearance of accountability, when in actuality the board is nothing more than an involved public relations campaign. 

This decision demonstrates what civil society leaders, academics and experts have been saying for a long time now: social media platforms and technology companies can not effectively self-regulate. The only solution is democratically accountable oversight that takes on the business model and the algorithms that are wreaking havoc on democratic society.

Any regulation that Facebook willingly undergoes by itself will never challenge their inherently unethical and democracy-threatening business model. 

The O.B. also brought up the importance of “freedom of expression”, when referring to Donald Trump’s online rhetoric. This isn’t a question of free speech, it’s a question of free reach. Trump does not have the state-ordained right to espouse fictitious, anti-democratic, violent messages to hundreds of millions of people. Nobody has an inherent right to spread hate and lies on Facebook, whatever their position in society. 

The idea of freedom of expression long predates the existence of billion dollar social media platforms that reverberate individual voices around the world. These platforms’ tremendous reach makes them immensely powerful, and the possibility of Trump’s reinstatement on Facebook 6 months from now sends a symbolic “go-ahead” message to nationalist strongmen such as Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, Rodrigo Duterte, and others. 

Ultimately, Facebook can not be the decision-maker regarding how these powerful platforms should and should not be used; that kind of decision has implications far beyond their scope as a for-profit business. We wouldn’t allow an oil company to let a board they appointed decide whether they should clean up an oil spill and we shouldn’t allow a tech company’s self-appointed board to decide what’s allowed on social media. 

We’ve dealt with the repercussions of Facebook’s ineptitude and greed for far too long. Enough is enough. We can not accept this non-decision as a victory. It’s time to act.

The Cure for Cronyism: Transparency & Accountability

27/04/2021 Posted by News, Uncategorized 0 thoughts on “The Cure for Cronyism: Transparency & Accountability”

Over the last few years, government sleaze, favoritism and duplicity have come to centre stage in political debate. From the Expenses scandal in 2009 to the Panama Papers leak in 2016, the public has become increasingly desensitized to felonious and underhanded government conduct. A troubling lack of accountability and justice has left bad actors feeling emboldened and untouchable. That brings us to where we stand in 2021 in the face of brazen cronyism: shocked, but not surprised. 

The powers of public office have been routinely abused, with the current party of Government allegedly abusing its power to benefit its members and their friends, silence its opponents and avoid any and all responsibility for its own failures of governance. 

Democracy is unable to function properly under these circumstances.

When money and personal connections translate directly into political influence, individual voices are inevitably silenced. Cronyism is antithetical to democracy. 

The Conservative government under PM Boris Johnson faces a number of allegations concerning sleazy behaviour. To name a few: 

– “VIP lanes” for receiving COVID-19 contracts from the government based on political connections

– Rishi Sunak and Matt Hancock favouring personal connections in giving out taxpayer money. 

Leaked texts between Boris Johnson and Sir James Dyson, Johnson promising to “fix” tax concerns for Dyson Limited. 

– The Greensill scandal (Which Parliament voted 357-252 to block a cross-party inquiry into) 

Government encroachment on our tax-funded civil service which needs to remain independent. 

The list goes on. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour has become par for the course and billions of pounds of your taxpayer money are at stake. As a democratic society, we have a responsibility to make sure that money is spent according to the will of the people, not as partisan favours or through backroom deals. 

As we outlined in our 2020 report Democracy in the Digital Age, the rules need to be changed in favour of more transparency and accountability – to embody the democratic principles that modern Britain purports to champion. We can’t change this broken system without meaningful legislative changes. Let’s get to work.

Join us in standing for accountability.

Biden’s Inauguration Must Inspire Reform

20/01/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Biden’s Inauguration Must Inspire Reform”

Fair Vote UK today again urged the UK Government to pursue immediate electoral reform as a new US President is sworn in amid insurrection and violence.

It has been exactly a year since we released our landmark report, Defending Democracy in the Digital Age, and yet there has been little progress in implementing its clear, evidence-based and urgent recommendations.

Today MPs warned that more accountability, more transparency and harsher repercussions are necessary to stave off a threat to UK democracy as was just witnessed in the United States, where shocking lies and violent anti-democratic protests have been amplified and organised on digital platforms.

Creating a secure digital environment for democracy has only become more of a top priority since this report was released one year ago today. The risks are multiplying, and the dire consequences of inaction are increasingly visible and damaging. The government’s failure to implement the comprehensive reforms outlined in this report is undermining the health of our democracy.”
↳ Stephen Kinnock MP, Chair of the APPG on Electoral Campaigning Transparency.

Based on testimony from academics, politicians, and representatives from businesses and civil society, the report highlighted aspects of the unregulated online world that pose grave risks, and proposed twenty significant reforms to create a digital environment conducive to a healthy democracy.

With the exception of a long overdue announcement from the Government to introduce digital imprints legislation, none of these have yet been implemented.

2020 showed us yet again the damage – from COVID-19 disinformation to anti-democratic conspiracy theories – that an unregulated digital sphere is reaping.

2021 must be the year we finally tackle this problem. Joe Biden’s inauguration can provide the impetus to tackle the digital rot at the heart of our democracy. Our report, published a year ago today, explains exactly what needs to be done.

Fair Vote UK, supported by The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, will continue to fight for the urgent reform we desperately need.

Looking Ahead for 2021

14/01/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Looking Ahead for 2021”

Happy new year! 

With a re-intensification of the pandemic in the UK and anti-democratic violence in the US it has not been the start we were all hoping for! 

Regardless, 2021 is set to provide much for democracy reformers and campaigners to focus on and, yes, be hopeful for.

On the 20th of January we will have Joe Biden’s inauguration to celebrate. With Democrats having flipped the Senate in Georgia’s key runoff elections, Biden will have the numbers in Congress to enact positive change. Even before last week’s violence it looked likely that democratic reform and tech regulation will be on the agenda. 

Now it is of the utmost urgency.

If America leads the chances are better that others will follow. UK elections (devolved, mayoral and local) in May will be an opportunity for digital-era reforms to get the public attention they need. Fair Vote UK will be leading a coalition of like-mindedly concerned civil society organisations in promoting a “Fair Play Pledge” for candidates to sign.

Recent suggestions that the elections may be delayed (in the case of England’s local and mayoral elections for a second time!) are shocking considering we’ve had a year to prepare for this. Fair Vote UK published a report in June 2020 that outlined a safe strategy for a COVID-19 era election. From staggered voting days to “pop up” polling booths, other countries have shown that it is possible to hold a safe election in these times. 

Regardless of the circumstances, you cannot go on and on suspending democracy.

In 2021 Fair Vote UK will also be leading a coalition of civil society organisations to inspect and scrutinise the development of the Government’s Online Harms Bill. This legislation will be a major attempt to introduce some rules into the dangerously unregulated digital world. It is extremely important that the rules hit the right targets and are genuinely enforceable.

Fair Vote UK will continue to build on the achievements of 2020, holding the powerful accountable and promoting sensible democratic reform in every corner of the UK and beyond.

2021 could be the beginning of the end of the dark days of rampant and dangerous big tech.

Let’s make it happen.

Who is to Blame for Yesterday’s Attempted Coup?

07/01/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Who is to Blame for Yesterday’s Attempted Coup?”

Yesterday’s incidents were shocking but they were not surprising.

Fair Vote UK and fellow campaigners for digital and democratic reform have been warning of such an event for years. This was an assault on the democratic process but it was created by the deterioration of democratic culture.

Who is to blame? Trump, Trump’s enablers and the rioters themselves all share responsibility.

Yet the threat that exploded yesterday is one that was created, nurtured and maintained by social media. Social media radicalised these people and then helped them recruit, organise and eventually plan this attack.

There are no excuses now. What happens online has real world consequences and every country must do something about it.

Wholesale regulation is now urgently essential.

Pressuring Twitter or Facebook to clean up their act (which, surprise surprise, today they proved they can do but only will do when faced with a PR crisis) is important but it is not enough. Many of the more extreme organisations were finally kicked off these platforms last summer but their followers have simply moved to less discerning sites. 

Facebook say they have banned Trump from their platforms “indefinitely” but even now they are still prevaricating, suggesting the ban could be lifted after Biden’s inauguration. Regardless, it is too little too late. We won’t forget this.

And why should we be reliant on the ad hoc “self-regulation” of a private enterprise? Would we trust any other industry to regulate themselves? 

Only Government regulation of the whole system will fix this.

In the UK there is an opportunity to do just that with the upcoming Online Harms legislation. It must be comprehensive and robust.

Government Announces Online Harms

15/12/2020 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Government Announces Online Harms”

The UK Government’s full response to the Online Harms White Paper, outlined today by the Home Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, is well-intentioned and its scale – in some areas – admirable. In other areas, however, the proposals are vague and worryingly restricted.

Under the proposals, digital companies will have a duty of care to protect their users online. They will be held responsible for both the illegal and legal (but harmful) content that appears on their platforms.

Fair Vote UK welcomes the scale of the fines (up to £18 million or 10% of global annual turnover, whichever is the higher) that the newly appointed regulator Ofcom will be able to administer. The differentiated landscape – with the largest tech companies given extra responsibilities – is also to be welcomed.

There are significant areas of ambiguity and weakness, however, that civil society should focus on reforming before the bill is put to Parliament next year.

  1. Too much responsibility is being delegated to big tech. Allowing the likes of Facebook to decide what is the “legal but harmful” content allowed on their site is essentially the system we have now and it is one that doesn’t work.
  2. The proposed exemption for journalistic content (and the comment sections on journalistic content) is fraught with problems and will blur/complicate regulation.
  3. Only including “disinformation and misinformation that could cause significant harm to an individual” is too narrow. This will exempt disinfo/misinfo that, for example, is harmful to democracy at large or to minority and marginalised groups.
  4. Using artificial intelligence to moderate content is not a panacea and should not be celebrated as so. The training and resourcing of human moderators should be prioritised.
  5. It is still unclear what exactly is meant by “harmful content” and what will fall within its parameters. We need a better idea of this before the legislation is put to Parliament next year.

The EU Commission today has also outlined comprehensive new regulations for the tech world and they provide a useful point of comparison. Companies operating within the EU will soon, like in the UK, be required to do more to prevent the spread of hate speech. 

Yet the Commission’s proposals go much further than the UK’s in many areas. The differences can perhaps best be described as one of focus. The UK’s Online Harms legislation will purely concentrate on the content that is hosted on tech platforms. The EU, in contrast, is targeting the industry’s problematic operation as a whole; anti-competition, monopolistic tendencies, advertising etc.

The two new regimes are similar in that key questions remain unanswered with regard to enforcement. Both policy proposals have lofty ambitions but the devil is in the details and we will continue to monitor how these proposals evolve through their respective legislative processes.