In Brief

Was MPs’ £30,000 US trip for ‘fake news’ hearing worth it?

Committee jets to Washington for one-day meeting with social media giants

A group of 11 British MPs flew to Washington DC this week to convene a one-day hearing with US social media giants about fake news - but just how much the politicians learned during the £30,000 fact-finding mission is unclear.

“None of it was terribly enlightening,” says The Guardian’s John Crace. “Just about the only thing we did learn was new media execs talk the same bulls*** the world over.”

Juniper Downs, YouTube’s global head of public policy, said that after a “thorough investigation” around the Brexit referendum, YouTube had found “no evidence of interference”, iNews reports.

Facebook also failed to offer any evidence of tampering, but promised to get back to the UK Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee by the end of February - although its findings may be kept secret, to avoid tipping off “bad actors”, says The National.

Twitter reported 49 accounts linked to a Russian “troll factory” around the time of the Brexit vote - amounting to less than 0.005% of tweets and creating “low levels of engagement”, according to Nick Pickles, Twitter’s London-based head of public policy, who addressed the hearing.

Meanwhile, two sources told BuzzFeed that the UK politicians turned down offers from Google, Facebook and Twitter to fly their top executives to London. “The committee of MPs refused the offer and organised an expensive three-day trip to the United States instead,” the website says. A committee spokesperson told BuzzFeed that Facebook and Google expressed a desire to testify in the US.

Although the amount of useful information gleaned from the one-day hearing appears limited, MPs at least managed to get across their frustrations.

 According to Quartz, Conservative MP Rebecca Pow asked: “Isn’t Facebook a massive surveillance operation?” Clacton MP Giles Watling accused the internet tech giants of being “behind the curve” in tackling fake news.

“Some might call it a nice winter break at an estimated cost of £30,000 to the British taxpayer,” concludes John Crace. “The 11 MPs preferred to call it thoroughness and, to mark the occasion, they had had special lapel badges made for themselves. Every trip abroad deserves a souvenir.”

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