Social media and technology companies face sanctions unless they do more to curb cyberbullying, sexting and trolling

Posted by Malcolm Johnson on

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Social media platforms to prevent cyber bullying
Social media and technology companies face sanctions unless they do more to curb cyberbullying, sexting and trolling

The Times reports today that ministers are to summon Facebook, Twitter, Apple and others to Whitehall, to demand that they develop new technological solutions similar to those used to thwart paedophiles and terrorists.

The call will be backed by the threat of legislation, with a green paper promised in the summer. Theresa May will commit today to making Britain the safest place in the world for children to be online.

In November 2016, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt said that he wanted social media platforms to block explicit images from young users automatically, following a request from their parents.

In January of this year, I called for an "Occupier's Liability Act" for media sites. This was following warning from Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield  "incomprehensible" terms and conditions of social networks mean children have little idea what they are signing up to".  Young people were left to fend for themselves in the digital world.

Anne Longfield has also said that schools should teach children "digital citizenship" from the age of four as part of the curriculum, and that children should have a digital ombudsman to help them remove content from social media companies.

Social media companies like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp publish their own terms and conditions.

At the end of the day, this is about child protection. You don't run a playground and expect children to read a ten page notice about the terms and conditions before they climb on the swings. 

The Occupiers Liability Act 1957 imposes a duty on property owners 'to take such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.'

The Act also says that an occupier must be prepared for children to be less careful than adults. What we need is something similar for the internet age.

Media sites such as Facebook and mobile phone companies make huge profits from their traffic. It is time for them to plough some of that money back into keeping children and adults safe.

They should also work with the government to set up comprehensive legislation.

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About the Author

Malcolm is an Senior Associate in our London office, with nearly twenty years' experience.

Malcolm Johnson
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