FACEBOOK should be subjected to a strict regulation regime similar to that which covers broadcast media such as the BBC, according to one of the SNP's most senior figures.

In the wake of the scandal surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, centred on the mass harvesting of personal data and the manipulation of voting, Brendan O’Hara, the SNP MP at the heart of the Westminster probe into fake news, said a radical shake-up of the internet was needed to protect the public from the “lawless Wild West” of social media.

“Deeply sinister" abuses that saw millions of people have their data exploited, showed social media platforms could not be trusted to police themselves, said O'Hara, who is the SNP's front bench spokesman on digital and media issues, and also sits on the influential Digital, Media, Culture and Sport (DMCS) select committee.

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O'Hara as a member of the DMCS Committee wants to grill Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and his most senior lieutenants as part of the committee's investigation into fake news. Zuckerberg has been called on to give evidence to the cross-party committee.

O’Hara, said: "If you'd asked me before if he would appear I'd have said no. But things are moving so rapidly and I don't think his silence is tenable."

O'Hara added: "It's very dark and very murky. A social and economic elite is trying to subvert democracy."

When asked whether Facebook should face similar regulation to that of a television broadcaster, O'Hara, responded: "Yes."

He added: "We have a situation where Facebook can no longer pretend to be this benign fun place where people stick up a photo of their dog and then get followed with a pet food advert as a sort of quid pro quo. There's now a malicious situation. Facebook can no longer argue it is just a host site. They are publishers and there has to be legislation. We cannot have a Wild West approach...They have to be held responsible."

O'Hara said it could prove difficult to force Facebook to obey the rules of the broadcasting standards authority Ofcom, as its role is restricted to broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industry regulation. However, he said the social networking giant could still face “bespoke” regulation that was similar.

"A bespoke middle route for social media platforms could work," he said. "This lawless situation and lack of regulation means Facebook is more powerful than some states. It's an incredibly powerful tool and wealthier than some countries."

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O'Hara said he would urge Westminster's DCMS select committee to back a regulatory regime for Facebook. MPs are expected to publish their report on fake news this summer.

O'Hara said: "In the USA it might be difficult to regulate Facebook, but in Europe we could definitely have some kind of legislation, even if it's bespoke regulation. When we get to the end of the report we'll make a recommendation to the government. My view is that we should look at the regulation of these sites.

"The committee will try to come up with something that we can coalesce around as there's a consensus that something needs to be done. But the current situation is not tenable."

O'Hara added: "I wouldn't want to preempt what that third way or middle road could be. But it's safe to say the status quo is not an option as we're beyond that. There will have to be a legislative framework to safeguard against abuse. We'll see plenty more abuses than this if we don't act. If you have a wild west approach there will be abuses.

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In response, a Facebook spokeswoman said the business would "continue to engage with the committee and respond to their requests for information”. The Sunday Herald contacted Cambridge Analytica but the company failed to respond.