Government measures to give Ofcom greater powers to police social media companies are doomed to fail, with the threat of legal action the only way to bring the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to book.
That is the stark warning from Professor Mark Skilton, a digital communications expert at Warwick Business School and industry director of the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Network, in response to the move which aims to tackle harmful online content.
The clampdown follows the publication of the UK’s Online Harms White Paper, and accusations that Instagram had allowed content that promoted suicide, following the death of teenager Molly Russell.
Facebook’s head of UK public policy Rebecca Stimson said: “Facebook has long called for new regulations to set high standards across the internet. New rules are needed so that we have a more common approach across platforms and private companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone. This is a complex challenge as any new rules need to protect people from harm without undermining freedom of expression or the incredible benefits the internet has brought.”
However, Professor Skilton is not impressed. He said: “Civil rights activists are right to oppose government censorship, but the online victims of child abuse, exploitation, violence, and cyberbullying are clearly being failed by self-regulated social media platforms. These vulnerable victims need radical steps to enforce standards in the ‘Wild West’ that exists online.”
“The Government must go further than mere fines and shaming. While it has ducked the hard policy design and passed the issue to Ofcom to define the detail, I hope that legal action and mandated processes to delete offensive content become law. We should be on the side of victims in this case, not lobbyists for these social media companies.
“I remain unconvinced this will be effective due to the complexity and scale of the problem, but investment forced by the threat of legal action seems the only way to get these social media platforms to act responsibly for society.”
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