In an unprecedented move tech giants Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter will be asked to reveal to how many complaints they receive regarding online abuse alongside the proportion of messages that they actually remove.
The move will be part of a range of new proposals included in an internet safety green paper, an aspect of a new governmental drive on internet safety. This first tenet of the report asks the aforementioned companies to produce an annual ‘internet safety transparency report’ detailing how each company handles complaints and what efforts have been made to moderate the content on each site.
Although the Conservative manifesto offered legislative steps to enforce the levy, the current proposal makes the levy voluntary. However, Karen Bradley the culture secretary supported the decision to make the decision voluntary, speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she held that although she [wouldn’t rule out legislative measures] she was hoping to “do it working with the companies.”
Some readers may here may harbour reservations regarding the voluntary nature reflects a half-hearted commitment to really tackling these issues. However, Bradley rejected this intuition adding: “It’s not backing away at all. It’s saying what is the best way to do this.”
Bradley echoing the words of Sharon White the chief executive of Ofcom, said that companies like Facebook could be viewed as news publishers, this move would lead to greater regulation of their content satiating any nagging worries that the electorate may believe this move to not be hard enough: “Legally they are mere conduits but we are looking at their role and their responsibilities and we are looking at what their status should be. They are not legally publishers at this stage but we are looking at these issues,” she asserted.
As part of the government’s teleological aim to make the UK the safest place in the world for young people to go online, an additional proposal included within the green paper involves existing plans to adjust the way relationship and sexual education is taught in schools, with greater emphasis to be placed upon ideas about online safety.
This change comes in lieu of research carried out by a team of academics working for the green paper, whose results found that nearly 20% of 12-15-year-olds had found something online which they deemed “worrying” or “nasty” reflecting parental concerns about their children sexting overtaking that of drinking or smoking.
The move has also gained support from the opposition, Tom Watson, the Labour deputy leader said:
“Everyone agrees on the need to deal with abusive and harmful content online…We’re pleased the government has accepted Labour’s call for compulsory sex and relationship education in schools, including online safety education, as well as for codes of practice for social media companies.”
However, Watson called for greater detail to be provided surrounding the costing of the levy, involving the total cost, and the costing breakdown, alongside the need to explain “what transparency information they will be asking social media companies to provide.”
This move comes amid calls from the European Commission for tech firms to do more to block illegal content, with other European heavyweights such as Germany passing legislation requiring hate speech to be removed within 24 hours of it being flagged or facing penal action of up to 50 million euros.