Should social media be regulated? It’s a question that’s come up time and time again, amid controversy after controversy for Facebook and other providers. Now the UK Government has delivered its answer: yes.
This week the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport published plans for an independent watchdog to create and enforce a set of regulations for social media sites operating in the UK, which aims to clamp down on the visibility of harmful content online.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had already tried to seize the initiative by saying he would welcome government regulation of social media. While it may seem strange that the owner of several of the most popular social platforms in existence should ask to be regulated, it ultimately makes sense from a reputational perspective.
Not only have Facebook and Instagram borne the brunt of recent criticism about problematic content, from fake news on politics to video content promoting violence and self-harm.
They have also struggled to balance the need to allow users to express themselves freely with a responsibility to exclude or remove problematic content deemed unacceptable by society at large.
Plus, self-regulation could leave competitors with an advantage about what content can be posted. This new watchdog would at least provide a level playing field for all sites, including Facebook.
So with social media being integral to many organisation’s success, how will this new regulatory framework fit in?
While the government proposals indicate that social media executives and managers will be fined for breaching the code of practice, it will be entirely up to the future regulator to decide the code’s specifics, creating much anxiety over what the new rules deliver.
That said, the code of practice is aimed at curbing the most harmful of content: abuse, hate, terrorism, misinformation – all of which any respectable organisation shouldn’t be posting anyway.
The worry is that automated systems will (as they often do) produce false positives, or that a convent “Report to Watchdog” button could be abused by trolls, leaving perfectly legitimate and safe organisations unable to use their voice on the ever growing and increasingly important online world of social media.
Ultimately, the specifics of what can and can’t be posted, and how it will all be monitored and enforced in practice, will determine whether it has a positive or effect or a freezing one for companies and individual users.
We’ll be keeping a close eye on how any legislation pans out and updating clients on what they need to know.
Social Media Executive
Photo Credit: Superikonoskop