The UK Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport recently published a green paper on internet safety. The Government's proposals include: doing more to educate young people about the potential harms of the internet; the introduction of an industry-wide levy; and a code of practice for social media companies.
The green paper is long on ambition but short on detail. For example, the paper is not clear, on what the proposed social media code of practice would cover, which companies would be subject to the proposed "voluntary" levy (which some have dubbed a "troll tax"), how much it would be and what exactly it would be used for.
Tech companies will be heartened by the fact that the Government appears to have tempered its approach from some of the rhetoric about "regulating the Internet" we have seen in recent months. In the green paper, the emphasis is on consultation, collaboration and partnership and a voluntary, self-regulatory approach (although there is a suggestion of legislation if the voluntary approach doesn't work). Some will argue that this 'softening' is more down to the Government's narrow majority than anything else, but whatever the driver, the change in tone will be welcomed.
As the Government acknowledges in the green paper, tech companies are already making strides in implementing technical measures to increase safety. But one of the practical challenges for many tech companies when looking at their safety measures, policies and procedures is the global nature of their businesses and the challenge of dealing with myriad and potentially conflicting, laws and regulation around the world. They will be keen to see the detail of the Government's proposals to evaluate the extent to which they diverge from their existing best practices.
It is also positive that the Government acknowledges that there is much more that needs to be done in terms of education. The focus understandably tends to be on educating children, as we see in the green paper, but we believe there should be an increased focus on how adults are educated on digital citizenship. Prevention has got to be better than cure, and when it comes to abusive and harmful content online, there needs to be a drive to continue to educate all users on what is and is not acceptable. A tenet of the paper is "what is unacceptable offline should be unacceptable online."
In order to tackle the issue of internet safety a concerted effort from both industry and Government agencies has to be the right approach. There are no quick or easy fixes here. There is definitely a key role for technological solutions. However, many will argue that we also need more investment in digital literacy and skills and committing additional resources to the tracking down and processing of offenders.
You will be hard pressed to find someone who would disagree with the Government's ambition for the UK to be the safest country to be online in the world, but with Brexit and other challenges currently facing the UK, there's only so much money, time and energy to go round.