Online Regulator Is A Near Certainty

There's a very clear direction of travel right now in the UK, and it's toward the country getting its first online regulator.

The idea has been floating around now for at least a couple of years, but it was not until Theresa May promised to investigate setting up an online regulator in the 2017 manifesto that the suggestion looked like it might begin to take shape.

The Government has since consulted the online industry and general public, prompting Boris to include a reference to setting up regulation in the Queen's Speech. If nothing happens now, it would be hugely surprising. 

You can feel it in the air in politics, but you can also see it in the way the media is working.

Just last week we have Sky's boss writing in The Times that self-regulation had not worked and the internet now needs its own regulator to force the tech giants -- in particular, to take down harmful material and make the web safer for children.

Soon after we had the Royal College of Psychiatrists suggesting the social media giants pass on data so researchers can get a hook on how their sites are used and how and where they might pose a danger to children.

We have also had a former government czar for protecting children online suggest that the tech companies should be treated like energy companies. When they get it wrong, they should be forced to pay massive damages to victims, just like Shell or BP do when there is an oil spill.

This is after a year in which many organisations have lined up to voice their opinions in the media, virtually all saying enough is enough.

A common theme appears to be that the tech giants need to be treated like they are in Germany. They don't necessarily have to be responsible for everything on their sites, but they should do everything they can to ensure harmful content does not make it live. If it does, it needs to be removed within hours of it being reported. 

So what will regulation look like in the UK? It's hard to say for certain, other than it is almost certainly going to happen. Press Gazette predicts the Government will likely make Ofcom a temporary regulator of the internet before it is likely replaced by a new organisation in the future.

The idea, it suggests, could be that Ofcom produces a report on what is need to better regulate the internet and how to enforce a duty of care on the social media giants before stepping aside to let the new entity take over.

Rough timing, by my reckoning anyway, would mean that a new regulator could be in position, by around the end of next year.

It really is a case now of what will be in place, and by when, rather than if.

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