Julian Knight – who chairs the powerful digital, culture, media and sport select committee in the Commons – has told the Sunday Express that platforms like Facebook, Google and Twitter need to come under a new regulatory framework and be held to account. His intervention comes after an open letter signed by dozens of psychologists which warned about the terrifying lockdown messaging causing “unimaginable suffering” and will lead to “severely negative psychological outcomes” for a generation of children, was shadow banned on Google.
This meant that the letter did not come up in searches but the authors were unaware that they had been blocked.
A major news website has also admitted to the Sunday Express that it has had to filter out livestreams because of concerns that the website would be downgraded.
A source from the website said: “Topics like coronavirus and lockdowns can cause issues on social media as the social media companies are spooked by what they perceive to be ‘disinformation’.
“The social media giants are under increasing pressure to tackle this sort of thing and they are prepared to punish us as a result by removing us from their vital news index, something that has happened to us in recent weeks and caused issues with site traffic as a result. We therefore need to be on our best behaviour on Facebook to try to rectify this.”
Another source added that the US election had made the situation worse and the website was already struggling on its Facebook platform because of “fact check” complaints in debates often from “political opponents”.
Mr Knight said: “We are in a very difficult place. The problem is that there are no other arbiters other than the social media companies.
“I don’t want [Facebook boss] Mark Zuckerberg or others social media executives to decide what is in my news feed.
“What we need is proper online harm legislation which provides a level playing field for the print media and ensures that social media platforms are properly regulated in making decisions like this.”
Tory MP Philip Davies, who also sits on the committee, also said he was concerned.
He said: “Social media companies masquerade as champions of free speech but in reality only support free speech which conforms to their own belief systems.
“It is really quite chilling when you think of the power and influence they have.”
The issue also blew up in the late stages of the US election where allegations about Democrat nominee Joe Biden’s son and the former vice president were briefly blocked on Twitter.
African American Republican Candace Owens has also announced that she will sue Facebook over its “fact check” site which has quoted articles she claims are defamatory.
The row over alleged social media bias saw Mr Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey hauled before a Senate committee last week.
Mr Zuckerberg said there needed to be changes to the law in the US.
He admitted that the growing debate “shows that people of all political persuasions are unhappy with the status quo.”
He said: “People want to know that companies are taking responsibility for combating harmful content – especially illegal activity – on their platforms. They want to know that when platforms remove content, they are doing so fairly and transparently. And they want to make sure that platforms are held accountable.”