Facebook and Twitter could face ‘online abuse levy’

Girl receiving a nasty message with girls in background Facebook and Twitter could face 'online abuse levy' Facebook and Twitter could face 'online abuse levy' 4287853ef6Image copyrightThinkstock
Image caption Surveys suggest children find it hard to avoid bullying and abuse on social media platforms

Facebook and Twitter could be asked to pay a tax to help fund educational campaigns about internet abuse.

It is among ideas suggested by the UK government as it considers its safer internet strategy.

It also proposed that social media platforms reveal the true scale of online hate and how much content is removed each year.

And it wants a code of practice to ensure providers offer adequate online safety.

The measures are intended to address the issues of:

  • cyber-bullying
  • trolling
  • abuse
  • under-age access to pornography

Ambitious plans

The UK’s Culture Secretary, Karen Bradley, said social-media companies had to face up to their responsibilities.

“The internet has been an amazing force for good, but it has caused undeniable suffering and can be an especially harmful place for children and vulnerable people,” she said.

“Behaviour that is unacceptable in real life is unacceptable on a computer screen, and we need an approach to the internet that protects everyone without restricting growth and innovation in the digital economy.

“Our ideas are ambitious – and rightly so. Collaboratively, government, industry, parents and communities can keep citizens safe online, but only by working together.”

According to the government, almost a fifth of 12- to 15-year-olds have seen something they found worrying or nasty, and almost half of adults have seen something that has upset or offended them, on social media.

An annual transparency report could be used to show:

  • the volume of content reported to companies and the proportion taken down
  • how users’ complaints are handled
  • categories of complaints, including from under-18s, women, the LGBT community or on religious grounds
  • information about how each site moderates content

Concrete steps

The government said that any changes to existing law would be underpinned by the following principles:

  • What is unacceptable offline, should be unacceptable online
  • All users should be empowered to manage online risks and stay safe
  • Technology companies have a responsibility to their users

It also wants to see a new body, similar to the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, to consider all aspects of internet safety.

In response to the consultation, Facebook said: “Our priority is to make Facebook a safe place for people of all ages which is why we spent a long time working with safety experts like the UK Safer Internet Centre, developing powerful tools to help people have a positive experience.”

“We welcome close collaboration between industry, experts and government to address this important issue.”

Vicki Shotbolt, chief executive at social enterprise Parent Zone, also welcomed the consultation.

“It is encouraging to see the government proposing concrete steps to ensure that industry is doing everything they can to support families and make the internet a place that contributes to children flourishing,” she said.

A spokesperson for the NSPCC said keeping young people safe online was “the biggest child protection issue of our time”.

“Social media companies are marking their own homework when it comes to keeping children safe, so a code of practice is definitely a step in the right direction but ‘how’ it is implemented will be crucial.

“Young people face a unique set of risks when using the internet and it is important any strategy recognises the challenges they face online and requires industry to act to protect them.”

Asking social-media companies to contribute towards the costs of educating the public about online dangers has precedence in the gambling industry, which currently contributes an amount to the treatment of gambling addition.

The government also wants to see online safety given more attention at schools, with social-media safety advice built into existing education programmes.

The consultation will close on 7 December, and the government expects to respond in early 2018.

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