The culture select committee of MPs has published a report that ought to galvanise the public debate about online giants and their political influence
House of Commons select committees often do useful work. Yet very few of them produce reports with the potential to reshape the political landscape. The weekend report by the Commons digital, culture, media and sport committee on disinformation and “fake news” is one of these exceptions. What started in 2017 as a herbivorous munch through some of the issues surrounding fake news, the future of journalism and digital advertising has evolved into part of the tooth-and-claw battle for power with the digital tech companies and partisan campaigners over the future of democracy. The result is a report that deserves to be described as essential reading because it deals with issues demanding essential action. For this is subject-matter on which neutrality is not an option. The government’s reaction to it will be a defining statement of its own moral seriousness and worthiness to govern.
The issues raised in the report are existential for parliamentary democracy and for rational public policy-making. As the report confesses, the all-party committee has learned a truth about which too much of the political and media class, as well as the public itself, remains in denial. “What became clear,” the report says, “is that, without the knowledge of most politicians and election regulators across the world, not to mention the wider public, a small group of individuals and businesses had been influencing elections across different jurisdictions in recent years.” As that implies, this is an internationally aware report about an international problem that ultimately will require an international solution.