Image: Brian Solis Image: Brian Solis

Facebook and other social media platforms need to be regulated urgently in order to prevent the spread of harmful content and fake news, MPs have said.

The Digital Select Committee report claimed Mark Zuckerberg has failed to tackle the issues sufficiently, lacking "leadership or personal responsibility".

The report said: "Democracy is at risk from the malicious and relentless targeting of citizens with disinformation and personalised 'dark adverts' from unidentifiable sources, delivered through the major social media platforms we use every day."

It added: "The big tech companies are failing in the duty of care they owe to their users to act against harmful content, and to respect their data privacy rights."

The report called for social media companies to sign up to a compulsory code of ethics overseen by an independent regulator, would have the power to take legal action should one of the companies breach the code. MPs have urged reform of election laws and overseas involvement, for social media companies to be forced to remove sources of harmful and fake content. And finally, the report calls for social media companies to pay a tax to fund the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and any new regulator that is created.

Reacting to the report, Facebook said: "We share the committee's concerns about false news and election integrity and are pleased to have made a significant contribution to their investigation over the past 18 months, answering more than 700 questions and with four of our most senior executives giving evidence.

"We are open to meaningful regulation and support the committee's recommendation for electoral law reform. But we're not waiting. We have already made substantial changes so that every political ad on Facebook has to be authorised, state who is paying for it and then is stored in a searchable archive for seven years. No other channel for political advertising is as transparent and offers the tools that we do."

Despite Facebook's apparent openness and co-operation following the report's publication, the committee chair Damian Collins criticised Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg for their conduct during the inquiry.

He said: "We believe that in its evidence to the committee, Facebook has often deliberately sought to frustrate our work, by giving incomplete, disingenuous and at time misleading answers to our questions.

"These are issues that the major tech companies are well aware of, yet continually fail to address. The guiding principle of the 'move fast and break things' culture seems to be that it is better to apologise than ask permission."

Mr Collins added: "Even if Mark Zuckerberg doesn't believe he is accountable to the UK Parliament, he is to billions of Facebook users across the world.

"Evidence uncovered by my committee shows he still has questions to answer yet he's continued to duck them, refusing to respond to our invitations directly or sending representatives who don't have the right information."