Reasons to be wary of social media regulation
Today we know more about the UK government’s plans to regulate social media firms
. It’s little surprise the UK is out of the gate ahead of Washington DC and Brussels; UK MPs were far more impressive at holding Facebook to account over Cambridge Analytica than the more fawning, less well-prepared politicians elsewhere.
Under the proposals, an independent regulator – either an existing one or a new one – would keep social media companies in line over the spreading of harmful and illegal content.
In addition to the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, the plans would apply to messaging platforms and cloud storage services. Executives at the companies concerned may be personally liable for the harms they cause, and the companies themselves may have to pay a levy to fund the regulator.
It’s encouraging that this isn’t just about slapping down technology firms. The government acknowledges the need for better online media literacy, and proposes education programmes to address it. Additionally, the regulator may be able to gain in-depth insight into how particular algorithms work, to better understand how information spreads.
And more broadly, the UK government has a habit of trying to come down too hard on tech. Just look at the repeated attempts to get back doors built into encrypted messaging services, or the heavy-handed and difficult-to-implement block on adult sites that has been delayed more than once.
Meanwhile, a Hansard Society report also out today warns that the UK public is “ever more willing to welcome the idea of authoritarian leaders who would ignore parliament,” the Guardian reports
Stronger regulation of social media is now an inevitability, and even the social media firms have accepted that. But having a regulator in place to control online speech would certainly be handy for an authoritarian prime minister. Just something to keep in mind…