2018 will be remembered as the year that everything changed for Silicon Valley’s elite.
That’s the view of Damian Collins, the prominent British lawmaker who has conducted a year-long inquiry into fake news as chair of the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee.
When launched in September, his inquiry fixed on how false information spreads on the big online platforms. But after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke in March, the probe evolved into a detailed inquisition into how Facebook data was weaponised to influence the democratic process.
Collins, a Conservative politician, now thinks that it is inevitable that the British government will tighten the regulatory reins around companies like Facebook, Alphabet’s YouTube, and Amazon.
Collins spoke to Business Insider at his office in his Westminster. The long arm of his inquiry has extended to Silicon Valley and, over the past 12 months, he has come to believe that there needs to be tougher laws for tech.
The 44-year-old politician has immersed himself in coding and combed through evidence in forensic detail. He is in regular contact with his peers in the US. One source told Business Insider he is part of an international WhatsApp group where politicians and witnesses share evidence.
A bugbear for Collins is that he hasn’t persuaded Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear before the committee in London, though he did secure something of a coup in landing CTO Mike Schroepfer instead. His committee’s detailed questioning was a sharp contrast with the easier ride US senators gave Zuckerberg during congressional hearings about Cambridge Analytica. It’s why some believe Zuckerberg has actively avoided a London appearance.
2018 will be the year people understand the damaging side effects of technology
Collins has not given up hope of Zuckerberg appearing, but for now, he is optimistic that 2018 will prove to be a watershed moment in people’s understanding of how tech companies have potentially damaging side effects.
“It will be a pivotal year because we understand these things better and we’re seeing governments starting to act,” he told Business Insider.
Collins pointed to Germany, which introduced a radical new internet hate speech law earlier this year. Companies like Facebook can be fined €50 million (£45 million/$57 million) if they fail to take down hate speech in a timely fashion. Facebook now has 65 staff dedicated to dealing with complaints made under the new law.
“The consequence of that decision is Facebook has invested so that they can comply. What it shows is that the tech companies, when they’re required to act in a responsible way – and required by law – will do so,” Collins explained.