Creating a safe environment online

I first questioned whether social media will be banned a few weeks ago off the back of comments made by health secretary Matt Hancock - himself reflecting on the death of Molly Russell.

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A lot has happened in the short space of time since I wrote that.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg called for governments to draw the line for him on what is acceptable or not, requesting stricter regulation of "harmful content, election integrity, privacy and data portability".

Two weeks later, in Christchurch, a white supremacist terrorist live streamed on Facebook his attack on two mosques. The video was quickly classified as objectionable, and the sharing of it was made illegal, with a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.

Then at the start of April, the UK government released the long-awaited online harms white paper, which stated that social media platforms will have a duty of care for their users, and could be held responsible if they are seen to be neglecting that. Failure to create a safe environment could result in substantial fines and even prison.

The need for government action is an unfortunate reminder of what you can find on social media if you’re looking for it, and sometimes when you’re not.

Many of us are connected to social media for most of the day; it’s where we find the news, keep in touch with friends, cheer ourselves up with cat gifs, and communicate with our key audiences. We are mostly able to ignore or don’t even notice the toxic trolls and other pond life out there.

It seems clear that the government won’t be moving to follow Hancock’s suggestion that the UK could ban certain social media platforms; meaning we won’t be joining a club including China, North Korea, Pakistan and Syria to name a few.

Although it can be argued that the porn block legislation and the implementation of it, could make banning certain content by the government easier in future, as they will have the infrastructure in place.

This white paper has wide ranging support, but there is a lot to be ironed out and the devil may well be in the detail.

The controls could end up so weak that little changes, or too strong and we lose our online freedom.

Only time will tell what impact it has.

Dan Atkinson
By Dan Atkinson