A new report has called for tougher social network regulation as MPs warned that the growing problem of “fake news" is a threat to democracy.

Conservative MP Damian Collins, chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee, said the volume of disinformation online is beginning to crowd out real news.

"We are facing nothing less than a crisis in our democracy – based on the systematic manipulation of data to support the relentless targeting of citizens, without their consent, by campaigns of disinformation and messages of hate," he said.

Last year 11 MPs from the DCMS committee launched an inquiry into "fake news" and have now outlined a number of major reforms to tackle the growing problem.

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Making tech firms like Facebook and Twitter responsible and liable for “harmful and illegal" content on their platforms has topped the list of the report's five key recommendations.

"Tech companies are not passive platforms on which users input content; they reward what is most engaging, because engagement is part of their business model and their growth strategy," the report stated.

"They have profited greatly by using this model. This manipulation of the sites by tech companies must be made more transparent."

The committee has also called for a levy to be imposed on tech companies in the UK, which will be used to pay for digital literacy programmes in schools and help finance the expanded work of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

MPs have also insisted that there should be a ban on micro-targeted political advertising to Facebook 'lookalike audiences' where users have requested not to receive political adverts.

The committee says the Electoral Commission should also establish a code for advertising through social media during election periods.

"In this inquiry we have pulled back the curtain on the secretive world of the tech giants, which have acted irresponsibly with the vast quantities of data they collect from their users," Collins said.

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"Despite concerns being raised, companies like Facebook made it easy for developers to scrape user data and to deploy it in other campaigns without their knowledge or consent."

He added added: "I believe what we have discovered so far is the tip of the iceberg. There needs to be far greater analysis done to expose the way advertising and fake accounts are being used on social media to target people with disinformation during election periods.

"The ever-increasing sophistication of these campaigns, which will soon be helped by developments in augmented reality technology, make this an urgent necessity."

Click here to read the other recommendations.

The committee's final report, which will also include further conclusions based on the interrogation of data and other evidence, is expected before the end of the year.

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