Did The UK Government Just Let Social Giants Off The Hook?

Well, it seems a bit of a climb down from a Digital Charter and an imposed tax on the social media giants that was discussed a few months ago around the time of the general election. But Karen Bradley has at least put a stake in the ground and told the social media giants that they're not doing enough to protect children.

To be honest, the tech giants can probably feel rather relieved because with the brave political talk of just a few months ago, it sounded like they were going to have to pay through the nose to do business in a post-Brexit Britain as well as be held responsible for every piece of inflammatory or extremist piece of content published on their pages.

Today, we have a rather toned-down position. The Government, through Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, is now talking about the social giants adhering to a set of principles against which they will be marked. The most obvious point is that they have a position of responsibility to their users, and then anything that is unacceptable offline should similarly be outlawed online. In addition, all users should have the means to stay safe online. 

Sounds like a charter of some sort is in the offing here, whereby the social media giants agree to the principles that you can't abuse people online just because it's anonymous and distant. At the same time, it's likely we will see the wider use of block and report buttons. 

The option remains open for the Government to bring in a levy to charge the social and tech giants to operate an organisation that educates young people about the dangers of going online and helps them know what to do to stay safe and report wrongdoing. 

On paper, it sounds like a good enough idea, albeit it a more watered-down approach to the internet with a more conciliatory tone. Is anyone else out there thinking what I am?

Here goes for thoughts from the top of the head. It's already illegal to abuse people online. It is already as bad to do something online as it is offline. People have been put in prison or cautioned by the police for online abuse, particularly around our politicians. It has probably shocked all of us how much abuse our female politicians in particular have received, and they have rightly had their reports of harassment taken seriously.

The social giants already have the ability to let people block trolls or just filter them out. They also have the ability, neatly hidden away, to report abuse. So it's not as if the Government is asking them to reinvent the wheel.

Funding a group that educates children on the dangers of going online can only be a good thing. It's also very much in the interests of the social giants to set this up because there is already some research that suggests attitudes are changing and children see social media as an unsafe place to hang out. If Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snap et al. don't get this cleared up, they could find their appeal to Gen Z -- and whatever marketing term we one day give to today's primary schoolchildren -- being severely diminished. 

So to paraphrase what a child charity said to the BBC today, this is a little like asking Facebook and the gang to mark their own homework. It's also getting them to appear bold and leaping to the defence of children when not only is it in their own interest -- it's something they should be doing more proactively today anyway.

Legislation has all but been taken off the table. Instead, Bradley reckons that internet founders who have since become parents will play ball. 

Contrast this with the sabre rattling around election time and I think we can all agree the social giants will be breathing a huge sigh of relief. A nanosecond's worth of profit will go into a safety campaign, report buttons might be brought to the fore, and the world will go on spinning. 

1 comment about "Did The UK Government Just Let Social Giants Off The Hook?".
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  1. Sean Hargrave from Sean Hargrave replied, October 11, 2017 at 1:16 p.m.

    Agreed. I am surprised the social giants haven't done more to have blocking and reporting tools more prominently displayed. If you have a problem with a comment, it's very hard to know what to do, whom to report it to. Also, with kid education, you would think a nanosecond's worth of profit could be put in to some extra tools, a video or two, a microsite for education? It now kind of feels like they've been dragged in to doing the right thing rather late on rather than embracing it and being seen as decent corporate citizens. 

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