View profile

The UK's radical redesign of the internet

Revue
 
Last month, with the passage of the Copyright Directive, I wrote here that Europe was splitting the i
 
April 8 · Issue #311 · View online
The Interface
Last month, with the passage of the Copyright Directive, I wrote here that Europe was splitting the internet into three. On Sunday, that process took another big step forward. Colin Lecher explains in The Verge:
In a detailed proposal released today, the United Kingdom laid out a plan for more closely regulating the tech industry, which is the latest crackdown on Big Tech in Europe.
The white paper, produced by the UK’s secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the secretary of state for the Home Department, says more decisive action is needed, noting the spread of terrorist content and other growing problems online. “There is currently a range of regulatory and voluntary initiatives aimed at addressing these problems,” the authors write in a summary, “but these have not gone far or fast enough, or been consistent enough between different companies, to keep UK users safe online.”
For now, the UK proposal is simply a white paper. The department will take public comment for the next three months before drafting legislation.
But unlike in the United States, where seemingly all talk of new restrictions on tech companies fizzles into nothingness, Commonwealth countries appear to be quite serious about regulation. Australia has proposed fines and even jail time for executives at companies that fail to remove violent content promptly, as I covered here last week. New Zealand’s privacy commissioner has (ironically?) asked Facebook to hand over the names of everyone who shared video of the Christchurch massacre. (He also called the company “morally bankrupt pathological liars who enable genocide,” for good measure.)
And now Canada is considering new regulations as well, BuzzFeed and the Toronto Star reported:
Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould told the Star and BuzzFeed News that “all options are on the table” when it comes to applying domestic rules to international social media giants like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and Twitter.
“We recognize that self-regulation is not yielding the results that societies are expecting these companies to deliver,” Gould said in an interview Monday.
Of all the saber rattling to date, the UK white paper contains perhaps the most sweeping set of potential regulations to date. Lawmakers intend to establish a new regulatory agency and “code of practice” to guide internet companies on what is required of them; empower that agency to fine companies (and executives) that fail to meet its standards; and require internet service providers to block access to sites that fail do not adhere to its “code of practice.”
The plans cover a range of issues that are clearly defined in law such as spreading terrorist content, child sex abuse, so-called revenge pornography, hate crimes, harassment and the sale of illegal goods.
But it also covers harmful behaviour that has a less clear legal definition such as cyber-bullying, trolling and the spread of fake news and disinformation.
An internet that has been stripped of terrorist content, child exploitation, and revenge porn would certainly be welcome. And yet given what we know about the difficulties of content moderation at scale, it’s difficult to understand how the regulations now in development will achieve their aims without significantly undermining political speech. One person’s “trolling,” after all, is another person’s good-faith discussion — and God help the regulator tasked with drawing a line between them.
What’s more, tough new moderation requirements may prove impossible for all but the largest platforms to meet, further entrenching their power and making it more difficult for startups to challenge them. If you believe that Commonwealth countries have been more willing to regulate tech platforms in part because they resent the fact that America owns vast swathes of the internet — and I do — it’s worth considering that a primary effect of these new rules could be to dramatically increase American companies’ power.
Years of inaction have justifiably led critics to complain that regulators around the world have been asleep at the switch. But if it’s true that they have historically moved too slowly, it’s also possible that in the current moment they are moving too fast. A white paper that announces its intention to ban “trolling” and “disinformation” but makes little attempt to define either gives me the shivers. (So does a strong endorsement by Theresa May.)
Some recent regulations strike me as positive on the whole — the General Data Protection Regulation seems to have galvanized a healthy amount of pro-privacy lawmaking around the world. But before we redesign the entire internet around the concept of “safety,” it’s worth having a long conversation about what we are giving up to get there.

Democracy
Facebook Bans Faith Goldy After HuffPost Report On White Nationalism Content
Anti-Semitic comments have flooded a New Jersey Facebook page. The state wants Facebook to step in.
40 teams, 30,000 people: Facebook’s army against fake news ahead of LS polls
Facebook Looks to Build Underwater Ring Around Africa
Israel Election: Meet The People Fact-Checking The Election That Makes 2016 Look Like A Walk In The Park
Israel Election: Twitter Suspended Dozens Of Hebrew-Language Accounts Run By A Strange Chinese Religious Sect
Airbnb Doesn't Want White Nationalists On Its Platform—But How Hard Is It Looking for Them?
Elsewhere
Poll: Americans give social media a clear thumbs-down
Facebook still has a big problem with cybercrime groups
What Are Instagram Class Accounts?
Instagram’s New Stars: Crime Scene Cleanup Specialists
In San Francisco, Making a Living From Your Billionaire Neighbor’s Trash
Buyers say Snap's latest announcements may allay audience growth concerns
Pinterest sets IPO range at $15-17, valuing it at $10.6B vs previous valuation of $12.3B
The People Behind ByteDance’s App Factory ($)
TikTok launches a new talent show inside its app looking for the next Blackpink
Launches
Snapchat releases rebuilt Android app
Twitter Safety
Follow, unfollow, follow, unfollow. Who does that? Spammers. So we’re changing the number of accounts you can follow each day from 1,000 to 400. Don’t worry, you’ll be just fine.
10:40 AM - 8 Apr 2019
Takes
Facebook Wants a Faux Regulator for Internet Speech. It Won’t Happen
Why the Cool Kids Are Playing Dungeons & Dragons
And finally ...
Shaena Montanari
The only reason I keep Facebook is to see what’s going on in my hometown...it’s usually good, but this is next level. https://t.co/xVkhwUmrqE
6:27 AM - 7 Apr 2019
Talk to me
Send me tips, comments, questions, and harmful content regulations: casey@theverge.com.
Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue