Posts in News

New CSPL Report on Regulating Election Finance

08/07/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “New CSPL Report on Regulating Election Finance”

On Wednesday the 7th of July, the Committee on Standards in Public Life released their 167 page report on regulating election finance, containing 47 recommendations to streamline electoral regulations and protect elections from foreign interference and dark money.

Built on months of testimony from civil society, academia, government and regular people, the immense report makes strong points about the flaws present in our electoral system. Not only does Fair Vote UK support many of the 47 recommendations laid out in this report, we strongly agree with the underlying message that our regulatory regime is in desperate need of an upgrade.

Read our full analysis on the report here.

Analysis: July 5th Elections Bill

06/07/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Analysis: July 5th Elections Bill”

The Elections Bill covers a lot of territory and deserves adequate time in Parliament for its vast implications to be properly scrutinised. While there are some small positive steps in certain areas such as election finance, overseas electors and digital imprints, these are unfortunately nullified by the bill’s regressive stipulations, including voter ID and the curbing of the Electoral Commission’s independence and prosecutorial capabilities. 

Where positive, the bill often doesn’t go far enough (as in the case of election finance) or leaves significant legal loopholes (digital imprints). 

Fair Vote UK welcomes the effort to protect democracy, but our years of experience and research indicate that this bill will not accomplish that task to anywhere near the degree that democracy requires in the digital age.

Voter Identification: 

Schedule 1 of the bill addresses Voter Identification. Amending RPA 1983, it mandates that a valid form of photo identification must be produced at polling stations. Acceptable IDs include passports, driving licenses, concessionary travel passes, and photocard parking permits. Notably, student ID cards, student travel cards, and other forms of identification likely to be held by younger people are omitted from the list of valid IDs given in the bill. 

The bill does stipulate that voters can apply for free electoral identification cards if they lack any valid form of identification (as well as an anonymous elector’s ID with an electoral number in lieu of one’s name). Applications for ID may be discarded if certain deadlines are not met or certain information is not provided, potentially leaving voters with no recourse to vote if they are not fully checked in to the process. People with full-time jobs, young children, serious illness or other time-consuming life circumstances who lack valid ID may not have time to deal with this new process. 

Generally, even with free ID cards available, this legislation serves only to wedge a new and unnecessary layer of bureaucracy between would-be voters (especially members of marginalised groups) and their democratic right to a vote for no evidence-based  purpose whatsoever. It will cost millions of pounds to issue these identification cards nation-wide, and an estimated £17.9 million each election to administer.

There is no doubt that this will result in more eligible voters being turned away from polling stations. Voter fraud is not a serious problem and this treatment is far worse than the alleged disease. 

Fair Vote UK believes voter ID is a waste of time, effort, and taxpayer funds. Several prominent Conservative MPs agree, including David Davis MP, who said that voter ID “will potentially disenfranchise thousands of people” and that it is an “illogical and illiberal solution to a non-existent problem.” 

Postal and Proxy Voting Measures: 

Schedules 2 and 3 address changes to postal and proxy voting. 

Those who vote by post in the long-term will be required to re-apply every 3 years to do so. This is completely unnecessary and, like Voter ID, only serves to ultimately limit the number of people casting votes in any given election. 

To combat what Chloe Smith MP calls “postal vote harvesting”, the bill will also ban campaigners from handling postal votes. No evidence is provided to suggest this is actually a problem. 

The number of people on behalf of whom a person can vote by proxy is limited to four. Of those four, no more than two can be non-service or overseas voters. We disagree with this as it could potentially affect certain families and co-habitants that depend on proxy voting to cast all of their votes. 

Clarification of Undue Influence: 

Schedule 4 addresses deception and intimidation of electors at polling stations or elsewhere in order to affect the outcome of their vote. 

Notably, calling into question the validity of the electoral process or election administration can also amount to undue influence. This is a welcome change though again, no evidence is provided to suggest this is a serious problem. 

Accessibility of Polls: 

This section encourages election officials to make polling stations more accessible for citizens with disabilities and removes restrictions on who can act as a companion to disabled voters. This is absolutely welcome. 

Overseas Electors:

Schedule 6 scraps the 15 year time limit on overseas electors’ right to vote in Parliamentary elections. Other improvements make it easier for overseas voters to stay registered and verify their identity and connection to a UK residence. 

While an expansion of suffrage is welcome, the bill contradicts itself in that overseas voters are being re-enfranchised while the voting rights of electors living in the country itself are being limited by voter ID and postal and proxy voting requirements. 

EU Voting / Candidacy Rights: 

Schedule 7 establishes circumstances in which EU citizens in the UK can vote in non-devolved local elections. Citizens of EU nations that have voting rights agreements with the UK (Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, and Poland) and EU citizens that have maintained residence in the UK prior to 31 December 2020 can still vote in those elections. We again welcome expanding suffrage and believe this aspect of the bill could go even further.

The Electoral Commission:

The bill introduces the ‘Strategy & Policy Statement’, which will be “developed through a statutory consultation with key stakeholders” and, crucially, approved by Parliament. The Statement will set the priorities and principles that the Commission is expected to operate within. 

The bill also increases the remit of the Speaker’s Committee (which the Commission currently reports to), making the Commission more accountable to the Committee for its “performance and delivery of general objectives”. With Westminster’s governing party holding a majority on the Committee, this would further bring the Commission under the Government’s control.

Making the Electoral Commission beholden to the Government of the day will greatly diminish its operational independence, making it a weaker and less impartial institution. This will likely erode public trust and give the party of government undue influence over the mechanisms of an Election in which they – by definition – have an interest. 

The Commission possesses a uniquely robust understanding of Electoral Law and should not be beholden to those without its same focus and expertise. This represents a serious conflict of interest, one with potentially severe consequences for free and fair elections in our democracy. 

The Electoral Commission’s capacity to prosecute will also be clearly ruled out, under the supposition that it “wastes public money” and that responsibility should remain firmly within the remit of the police and Crown Prosecution Service. This constitutes the removal of a potentially important accountability enforcement mechanism for the Commission. An already stretched CPS does not need this burden. The Commission, specialists in the area, should be given the resources and power to properly prosecute infringements of electoral law. How, exactly, is this meant to increase the public’s trust in elections?

Beyond that, another bill is in its second reading in the House of Commons that seeks to abolish the Electoral Commission entirely. While the bill looks likely to be unsuccessful, it demonstrates a consistent commitment from sections of Parliament against an independent, non-partisan Electoral Commission.

Political Finance: 

The bill introduces five new measures that attempt to curb foreign spending in UK elections and increase fairness and transparency. The five new measures are as follows: 

– Third Party Campaigner Registration

  • Third parties spending over £10,000 will need to register with the Electoral Commission and adhere to existing transparency requirements as well as indicate that they are UK-based. 

– Restriction of Third Party Campaigning

  • Only third parties that are registered with the Commission will be able to campaign during regulated election periods, whether or not they spent above the £10,000 threshold. 

– Ban on Simultaneously Registering as a Political Party and Third Party

  • It will no longer be permitted to register as both a political party and a third party. This will prevent entities from using both spending limits. 

Restrictions on Coordinated Spending Between Political Parties and Third Parties

  • Third parties and political parties that campaign jointly will be required to account for their combined costs. 

– Requirement for New Political Parties to Declare Assets and Liabilities

  • Political parties will be required to declare assets and liabilities in order to register with the Electoral Commission.

Fair Vote UK suggested actions along similar lines in our 2020 report Defending Democracy in the Digital Age. The main concern is that these actions may not be robust enough to fully address the scale of the problem at hand in terms of foreign spending and dark money political donations. 

The £10,000 spending threshold should be lower – set to 1p – and the Electoral Commission should be given the necessary capacity to fine and even prosecute infractions against election finance protocol. Whether you’re spending £1 or £100,000, any entity attempting to influence an election should be registered with the Electoral Commission.

We would like to see this section of the bill taken much further.

Our recommendations on how to do that, drawn largely from our extensive consultation, are to: 

  • Regulate all donations by reducing permissibility check requirements from £500 to 1p for all non-cash donations.
  • Increase transparency and regulation of local candidate financial reports by shifting oversight to the Electoral Commission.
  • Streamline national versus local spending limits with a per-seat cap on total spending.
  • Modernise spending regulations by instituting per-annum spending limits. 
  • Standardise financial reporting.
  • Require corporate donations to come ONLY from profits reported in the UK.
  • Third Party Political Organisations and political parties should complete an “Exit” audit after an election period before they disband.
  • Include valuations of data set costs in spending regulations

Intimidation Sanctions: 

The bill stipulates that anyone convicted of abusing a candidate, campaigner or elected official will no longer be eligible to run as a candidate themselves for five years. 

This would not function as a deterrent, as the vast majority of those who would abuse candidates/campaigners/elected officials likely have no interest in running for office.

Digital Imprints:

The new long-awaited digital imprints regime will require political campaigners to show who they are and who they are promoting material for. This applies only to all paid-for digital material. 

Elected representatives and political parties will also require an imprint if the material is digital election material, referendum material, or recall petition material. 

The paid-for vs. unpaid distinction risks the creation of certain loopholes that could nullify the effectiveness of requiring digital imprints in the first place. It is also crucial that the imprint includes why the audience is being targeted. 

Transparency in modern political campaigning should mean political advertisers are open to members of the public about the (often very specific) reasons they are being targeted with a message.

There is also no specification that the imprint needs to be visible on the material, creating yet another concerning loophole especially as the material is shared and re-shared. 

Finally, the legislation does not put a legal duty on platforms to ensure campaigners put an imprint on electronic material before it is uploaded. This is a fundamental flaw in the regime as social media companies have vast resources and it would make more sense – even purely from a practical point of view – to require the implementation of digital imprints at the upload stage rather than expecting the Electoral Commission and police to monitor compliance after the fact.  

Our Final Take:

While there are some welcome new provisions in this bill, it is clear that the driving force behind it is not electoral integrity but instead power consolidation. Making it easier to vote while living abroad but harder to vote while living in the country is blatantly contradictory and serves no purpose but to disenfranchise the most vulnerable and most marginalised in society. Explicitly eliminating the investigative and prosecutorial power of the Electoral Commission is transparently reducing the enforcement power of election law and a welcome invitation to break the law. Why weaken the independence and deterrence power of the Electoral Commission if you’re attempting to increase confidence in elections and democracy? It doesn’t make sense.

The Electoral Integrity Bill is a huge opportunity to modernise election law with several missed goals. For example, Election Day could have been moved to a weekend or been made a bank holiday to ensure people can actually get to the polls. Instead, their postal vote now expires after three years and there are even more hoops to jump through to vote on the day, including expensive Voter ID provisions that are attempting to solve a problem that evidence suggests does not exist. 

If recent efforts to actively disenfranchise voters in the USA are any indication, this bill’s greatest outcome will be to reduce democratic participation and in turn, faith in the outcome of elections. We look forward to robustly amending the bill to turn it into an actual Electoral Integrity Bill that seeks to broaden participation, deter interference and law-breaking and strengthen faith in our most cherished institution – democracy. 

Statements on Electoral Integrity Bill Reveal Concerning Contradictions

25/06/2021 Posted by News 0 thoughts on “Statements on Electoral Integrity Bill Reveal Concerning Contradictions”

On June 15th 2021, Chloe Smith MP gave a speech hosted by right wing think tank Policy Exchange on the Government’s plans to safeguard democracy from 21st century dangers. She evoked the second American president, John Adams, and cited Freedom House’s Freedom of the World Index to demonstrate the global “democratic recession” that the world is currently experiencing. 

To combat this recession, she describes the multiple pending pieces of legislation, including both the Electoral Integrity Bill and the Online Safety Bill, as part of a larger initiative to “keep the UK’s democracy modern, secure, transparent, and fair.”

Smith followed this speech with two written statements to Parliament, published on the 15th and 17th of June 2021. Both revealed new information about the Government’s forthcoming Electoral Integrity Bill.

 

Changes to the Electoral Commission: 

Smith’s written statement to Parliament on the 17th of June revealed plans to significantly alter the functioning of the Electoral Commission. In order to address perceived issues with the Commission’s accountability, the Elections Bill will include measures to introduce a ‘Strategy & Policy Statement’ to guide the Commission’s core functioning.

The ‘Strategy & Policy Statement’ will be “developed through a statutory consultation with key stakeholders” and, crucially, approved by Parliament. The Statement will set the priorities and principles that the Commission is expected to operate within. Making the Electoral Commission beholden to Parliament (and thus the Government of the day) would greatly diminish its operational independence, making it a weaker and less impartial institution.

Smith also proposed to increase the remit of the Speaker’s Committee (which the Commission currently reports to), making the Commission more accountable to the Committee for its “performance and delivery of general objectives”. In theory this is no great threat to the Commission’s independence but in practice, with Westminster’s governing party holding a majority on the Committee, it would further bring the Commission under the Government’s control. 

The Electoral Commission’s capacity to prosecute will also be clearly ruled out, with ministers arguing that it “wastes public money” and preferring to keep that responsibility firmly within the remit of the police and Crown Prosecution Service. This constitutes the removal of a potentially important accountability enforcement mechanism for the Commission. An already stretched CPS does not need this extra burden. The Commission, specialists in the area, should be given the resources and power to properly prosecute infringements of electoral law. 

The bill will also “introduce a new electoral sanction, so that somebody convicted of intimidating a candidate, future candidate, campaigner or elected representative will be banned for 5 years from standing for and holding elective office.” As most online abusers are not standing for – nor do they show any interest in standing for office, this is an ineffective and pointless deterrent. 

Beyond that, another bill is in its second reading in the House of Commons that seeks to abolish the Electoral Commission entirely. While the bill will be unsuccessful, it demonstrates a consistent commitment from sections of Parliament against the Commission.

Smith also outlined “reforms to political financing, campaigning and advertising.” Campaigners would need to register with the Electoral Commission if they are spending over £10,000 across the UK on political campaigning during election periods. This is a small step in the right direction. Ideally, all campaign organisations, third party or official, should have an exit “audit” with the Electoral Commission following the election period. 

Also mentioned was “tighter rules to reduce the risk of ineligible overseas involvement” by “ensuring that campaign spending can come only from sources that have a genuine and legitimate interest in UK elections.” This is pointing in a good direction, but genuine and legitimate are subjective terms that are hard to define concretely. Corporate donations should be required to come from profits declared in the UK. 

 

Voter ID: 

Unsurprisingly, Chloe Smith MP defended the Electoral Integrity Bill’s focus on voter fraud and touted voter ID as the solution to that alleged problem. She claimed that free ID cards will be made available to all, though it is extremely unclear how exactly that will be possible or where that funding will come from. 

As we’ve seen in trial experiments of Voter ID, more people are turned away, marginalised groups are disproportionately affected, and the increase to voter confidence is negligible. 

 

In conclusion, there are a few welcome details in Smith’s recent statements, but they are greatly overshadowed by reforms that would weaken the Electoral Commission and effectively rescind its independence. This would greatly increase the Government’s authority over the body that is supposed to oversee election regulations. It is not hard to discern the conflict of interest.

The independence of democratic institutions like the Commission is of paramount importance to the health and sustainability of our democracy. In calling to curb the Commission’s independence and touting mandatory voter ID laws, Chloe Smith erodes her own pro-democratic message.

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.