Britain leads the way in mastering Facebook, Twitter, YouTube

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Facebook Inc. was able to distance itself from the most damning document leak in its history by renaming itself Meta Platforms Inc. last week, but that doesn’t mean it won’t come under regulatory oversight. more stringent in the world. Where will it get the most heat? My bet is UK

After blundering on Brexit, the UK is moving much more effectively on legislation to tackle the same social media misdeeds described by whistleblower Frances Haugen. The online safety bill addresses a wider range of issues than similar proposals from the European Union and is likely to come into force sooner, potentially next year.

The law cleverly links human well-being and free speech by treating social media companies like public environments (not publishers), and with the right finishing touches, it could be a role model for others to follow. governments.

Essentially, social media companies will be required to conduct regular risk assessments of the nature of harmful content on their platforms and take action against such damage as well as any prevalent illegal content. The communications regulator Ofcom will assess companies on these results. If they don’t comply, companies face multi-billion dollar fines and potentially criminal charges for executives.

In other words, social media companies will have to provide much of the type of information Haugen leaked: internal research. This could, for example, be data showing that women in parts of the UK are more likely to read misinformation about COVID-19, or that some teens are ‘over-exposed’ to self-destructive content. Ofcom would then ask the social media company to change its algorithms to change these statistics, or face punishment.

Indeed, social media will become regulated as a risk industry. Haugen hailed the UK bill as a “cutting edge” approach to regulating social platforms.

The bill has its critics, especially on freedom of expression. This risks forcing Facebook and other social media platforms like Alphabet’s Twitter Inc. and YouTube to ‘remove’ content, according to Big Brother Watch, a UK privacy campaign group. United. But so too are efforts to reform free speech laws in the United States, an issue on which there is little consensus. The UK has the advantage of moving quickly and with an existing regulatory agency to test the new rules and suggest changes if necessary.

The real weak link in this promising law is the regulator and its capacities. The bill, as it stands, allows social media companies to set their own standards for defining a risk assessment, not Ofcom. This could facilitate the suppression of due diligence. As Haugen noted in his testimony, “Facebook is good at dancing with data.”

(Facebook’s organizational structure also appears woefully ill-prepared for harm audit. main lobbyist for Facebook, not auditing and monitoring business risk. Committee.)

It will also be difficult for Ofcom, which was designed to regulate telephone companies and television stations, to pivot to the vast online world and its hard-to-measure human rights impacts.

But it’s helpful for the regulator to assess reports provided by tech companies and not necessarily have to hire an army of IT people to investigate their algorithms. Will Perrin, a former public servant who helped set up Ofcom and whose research sparked the upcoming law, tells me Ofcom has a lot of experience and ability to extract the information it needs from people. companies.

The current law is fueled by a painful experience. British schoolgirl Molly Russell died by suicide in 2017 after viewing images of self-harm on Facebook’s Instagram, and her father has become a powerful public advocate for the regulation of these platforms. Last month, while questioning Haugen, politicians working on the new law also spoke about threats and abuse they had received on social media, as well as the recent murder of fellow MP Sir David Amess.

The bill is based on a well-known and well-known principle of ‘duty of care’ at the heart of UK health and safety law. This obligation to protect people dates back to 1928, when a woman named Mary Donoghue bought a bottle of ginger ale in Paisley, Scotland, and found a dead snail inside, before falling ill. She sued the maker and won when her case went to the House of Lords. Lord Atkin of Aberdovey, who presided over the case, said in his judgment: “The rule that you must love your neighbor becomes law: ‘You must not hurt your neighbor. “

An age-old principle is now defined as the cornerstone of social media regulation. The UK could be a pioneer in this effort in the same way that the EU launched broader privacy standards with its GDPR law. Hope this is not a missed opportunity.


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