UK To End Social Media Self-Regulation

There can be few governments in power that have ever needed a no-brainer, vote-winning project more than Theresa May's administration.

Today the Government, bogged down in Brexit worries, will mark Safer Internet Day with a confirmation the days of the social giants self-regulating are drawing to a close.

Before the day is out, The Times is predicting an announcement will be made on a new strategy that will be summed up in a white paper due to be released later this month. 

The detail will not be known until then, but for now, we have the general gist. The Government is no longer content to see the social giants self-regulate.

That is the main takeaway, and it's a point the former Deputy Prime Minster, Nick Clegg, took on the chin when conducting his first round of interviews as the new spin doctor supreme for Facebook last month. Regulation is needed, and it is inevitable. Even he had to agree.

It is the same story, The Times suggests, for Instagram admitting, ahead of a meeting today with the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, that it is not doing enough to remove harmful content from its sites.

The campaign to toughen up on the social giants now has a new face -- that of Molly Russell, who is believed to have been influenced by self-harm pictures and posts on social media before ending her life, aged just 14.

It is sad that we have to talk about a death of a young person for a subject to rise to national attention, but we had a similar case with Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, aged 16, recently dying on a flight after eating a sandwich, bought at the airport, that was not required by law to be explicitly labelled as possibly containing nuts. 

The grief and the campaigning by both sets of parents for lawmakers to pay closer attention to protecting children, as well as those with allergies, is palpable. It's very moving and it has caused the Government to take note. 

There can only ever be votes to be won in tackling the social media giants. While use of the platforms is pervasive, trust is low. We already have Google facing the first massive GDPR fine, via CNIL in France, and Facebook is still reeling from last year's Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

The fact that these sites don't do enough to protect children from being exposed to harmful content is a point that most founders and directors would probably acknowledge.

The sites know they aren't doing enough. They may well be trying, but it seems clear that the Government is considering a German approach where it is accepted that the sites are not instantly responsible for everything that is posted, but they are responsible for taking down harmful content.

Once they have been informed of content their own protection teams have missed, there is likely to be a notice period, by which time the content will need to be removed or the platform will be fined. 

That is the most likely outcome of today's announcement of an upcoming white paper.  The days of self-regulation are drawing to an end, and we will now be debating how long the giants need to take action on content and the level of the fine if they do not. It's a huge step-change.

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