In July 2018 there were a series of reports that raised questions about the role of fake news in the campaign for Brexit.
A UK Parliamentary committee said there was a crisis in democracy because of fake news – as in a campaign of disinformation and hate in the Brexit referendum two years ago.
Facebook released ads targeted at specific groups of people during the referendum – bought by the leave campaign for more than £2.7 million.
The UK Electoral Commission fined the official Vote Leave campaign for breaking spending limits in the referendum and referred two key leave campaigners to the police for false statements.
And the man who bankrolled Brexit and the UKIP political party – Arron Banks – was facing questions over the source of his funds and possible Russian involvement.
Supporters of Brexit in and out of the media accused the Electoral Commission of bias against Brexit. The commission was set up by Parliament in 2001 as an independent body to regulate UK elections and sought enhanced powers in the wake of its investigation.
One of the men referred to police – Darren Grimes, head of the BeLeave campaign – launched a crowd funding campaign to overturn the ruling.
And the Parliamentary committee didn’t even like the term “fake news” and preferred “disinformation” as more accurate. Even as it in turn was accused of fake news – by leave campaign funder Arron Banks.
The committee – the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee chaired by Conservative MP Damian Collins – highlighted “the manipulation of personal data, and targeting pernicious views to users” particularly during elections and referenda.
And it outlined a series of recommendations to tackle the problem largely aimed at trying to make social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google more accountable for their content.
The committee’s interim report was officially released at the end of July, days after it was leaked by a key Brexit campaigner who had consistently refused to appear before the committee. The official report was to be released in the autumn but it had already sparked debate and this interesting comparison with action on parallel issues in the United States.
The developments followed a series of revelations about voter manipulation in the spring of 2018.
Crisis in democracy
Facebook releases targeted ads
Brexit referendum ads
Vote Leave campaign fined
Two key leave campaigners referred to police
UKIP and Brexit bankroller Arron Banks
Banks faces questions
Possible Russian involvement
The Telegraph questions Electoral Commission
Electoral Commission accused of political bias
The Electoral Commission
Electoral Commission seeks enhanced powers
Accused Brexiter launches crowd funding campaign
Arron Banks accuses Parliamentary committee of fake news
Parliamentary Committee chair on fake news
Parliamentary Committee recommendations
Committee report leaked by Dominic Cummings
Report sparks debate
Comparison with USA