Wednesday, October 11, 2017

UK Government proposes industry wide levy to counter internet harms

The Internet has moved on massively from the days when it was considered a resource for the exchanging of academic research papers but even back in 1980 when Usenet was created the range of opinions and comments that people held privately were shared with much wider audiences, jumping forward some forty years and keeping people safe online is an increasingly important topic as now almost every child and young adult is online it seems and the vast majority of adults too.

The UK Government has previously plans to make the UK the safest country to be online in and today has the publication of a Green Paper that sets out how they envisage this working.

5. Working with industry to make online environments safer for all users The government cannot keep citizens safe on its own, everyone has a role here: government, industry, parents, civil society and citizens. In particular, we need the technical understanding and expertise of the industry. This is why we will work in partnership with social media and other technology companies, working with them to provide safer online platforms for their users and providing support to do this where it is needed.

By working together and setting a clear level of ambition on safety, without prescribing exactly how companies should achieve this, we hope to build online safety without stifling creativity, innovation and growth in the Britain's digital economy. We are clear that our support for a free and open Internet remains undimmed, and that we do not want to restrict access to the Internet. But we do want to see a much more consistent approach to safety across the industry.

Extract from Green Paper

The short press release announcement suggests what we led with as the headline is one of the plans "An industry-wide levy so social media companies and communication service providers contribute to raise awareness and counter internet harms​" but interestingly when reading the Green Paper this levy is not as many will immediately assume i.e. a flat rate tax on communication providers and social media firms but seems to be voluntary and can include things like donations to awareness campaigns, so contributing from a Corporate Social Responsibility fund to Internet Safety Day would count.

One myth that needs busting that is part of the foreword by The Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and it is this "It is right that the technology that underpins the Internet is developed by the brightest technicians and engineers", while there are core parts of the Internet works that are complex and come from the brightest minds a massive amount of what people actually see is developed by the average human and increasingly this is not complex or technical but is driven by marketing to sway algorithms that help to promote sites. While AI is seen as increasingly important at dealing with online safety by automating much of the filtering or raising alerts in the short to medium term resolving moderation and policing of social media means lots more humans monitoring content and pressures to do more may mean some outlets remove some forms of public interaction. In years past trolling was often very easy to identity, but a new trend we'd refer to as steering is becoming more common, i.e. nudging people ever so slowly until they push people over the edge of a sites rules but those doing the nudging always ensure they stay on the right side of both detection algorithms and human moderators.

The UK Parliament has had hundreds of years to arrive at its norms for how the opposing parties interact with each other in the House of Commons but the arrival of the Internet has rocked that boat and we would like to encourage all UK political parties to consider putting themselves at the forefront of best practice with regards to online safety and ensuring that supporters who may target the opposition online are called out when they cross the line between objecting to a policy and attacking the individual politician and/or their family.

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