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Plans to regulate harmful content online welcomed by bishop

Mon 08 Apr 2019
By Cara Bentley

A government white paper has been released on plans to prevent harmful content appearing and remaining online, which has been backed by an Anglican bishop. 

The proposals by the Department for Education include creating an independent regulator, similar to Ofcom, to monitor online content and remove material that might, for example, promote self-harm, terrorism or illegal activity.

There has been a growing impetus for more control as parents begin to be more aware of and more vocal about the impact of sites like Instagram on their children's mental health, most notably in the death of Molly Russel, who was 14 when she died and whose parents believe the content she saw on social media played a part in her death.

 

 

The Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, who in 2016 launched a campaign to encourage a safer online environment, said: "The new plans unveiled today are an encouraging sign that the online world will start to be regulated to protect people like Molly Russell, who tragically took her own life. We know that her family believe that social media was partly responsible for their daughter's death.

"Research tells us that 4 in 10 people feel that tech firms fail to take their concerns seriously when they complain. It's about time that social media companies are held responsible for their content and are accountable for their actions. No other organisation in the 'real' world has that freedom.

"We manage to regulate electricity, water companies, broadcasters, shops etc through consumer bodies, yet for years social media companies have been allowed to self-regulate. These new clear standards, backed up by enforcement powers will hopefully be the step change to start really protecting our children and young people online."

The White Paper acknowledges that illegal and harmful content is 'widespread' and that no plans to self-regulate have gone far enough or fast enough. 

The DofE say they want to lead the world 'by setting a coherent, proportionate and effective approach that reflects our commitment to a free, open and secure internet.'

Will Roberts, a Christian and managing director of the digital agency WebBox told Premier's News Hour he agreed with the plans to reduce harmful content online but said the responsibility should be on more shoulders than just those of the social media companies.

"I don't think they are the enemy to be honest, I think it''s very much a case of the people who are posting the content, of course, are the problem and therefore that's the root of the issue, I think, that's what needs to be addressed.

"So maybe, you know, tighter regulations about who are using the websites, how they register, how do we prove their identification need to be put in place but from my point of view I wouldn't say that the actual networks are the enemy."

Roberts added that laws won't necessarily stop users from posting harmful content and that regulation will be difficult because of the vast amount on content uploaded every minute.

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