The net tightens

On 2nd September the Financial Times reported on a remarkable letter which had appeared that day in the Sunday Telegraph. Because it is behind a paywall, I reproduce the text of the epistle here:

SIR – The Government launched its Green Paper on internet safety last year, with an objective “to ensure Britain is the safest place in the world to be online”.

The internet is an overwhelming force for good, but like all media it also risks creating harm – from the extremes of child exploitation to the threat to democracy that the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee has identified in “fake news”. The Chief Medical Officer has also highlighted growing concerns around the impact on children’s mental health.

We represent diverse media or communications companies and collectively invest significantly in British infrastructure and content. We pay high and fair levels of tax, and we are all regulated by Ofcom. And we have one more important point in common – we all agree with Sharon White, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, that the argument for independent regulatory oversight of major online players has never been stronger.

We do not think it is realistic or appropriate to expect internet and social media companies to make all the judgment calls about what content is and is not acceptable, without any independent oversight. There is an urgent need for independent scrutiny of the decisions taken, and greater transparency. This is not about censoring the internet: it is about making the most popular internet platforms safer, by ensuring there is accountability and transparency over the decisions these private companies are already taking.

The Government, regulators and industry must now work together to address all potential online harms, many of which are exacerbated by social media. The autumn White Paper on internet safety is a golden opportunity to get this right.”

Jeremy Darroch, Chief Executive, Sky

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, Director-General, BBC

Carolyn McCall, Chief Executive, ITV

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive, Channel 4

Gavin Patterson, Chief Executive, BT

Tristia Harrison, CEO, TalkTalk

To have brought together all of the above must count as an achievement of some sort. In the Daily Telegraph it was described as an “extraordinary coalition”.

Add this to the comments made by Home Secretary Sajid Javid in his speech the following day. According to The Guardian (and me because I was in the room), he said he was (only for the moment?) “holding off naming and shaming” guilty parties.

It is not hard to see why the level of expectation in the UK about how  internet governance is about to shift has risen to an all-time high. With so few friends in Parliament the social media companies operating in Britain must know the times they are a-changing. We wait with bated breath.


About John Carr

John Carr is one of the world's leading authorities on children's and young people's use of digital technologies. He is Senior Technical Adviser to Bangkok-based global NGO ECPAT International and is Secretary of the UK's Children's Charities' Coalition on Internet Safety. John is now or has formerly been an Adviser to the Council of Europe, the UN (ITU), the EU and UNICEF. John has advised many of the world's largest technology companies on online child safety. John's skill as a writer has also been widely recognised.
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