UK seeks payment from Google and Facebook to combat cyberbullying

12 Oct 2017

Online bullying is a growing problem. Image: ThomasDeco/Shutterstock

The UK Conservative government proposes a levy on tech giants to fight online abuse.

Cyberbullying is a growing problem, and the UK government has reached out to companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to try and tackle it.

According to The Guardian, the government proposed a voluntary levy on tech players in an internet-safety strategy released on 11 October.

A thorny issue

The internet-safety green paper is a result of a consultation process that has been ongoing since February of this year. The full document has yet to be released but the levy will apparently go towards solving issues such as online bullying and the exposure of young children to pornography.

It also proposes a code of practice for social media and an annual transparency report on the subject of internet safety. Safety by design will also be encouraged in terms of tech start-ups creating new products.

Will tech players volunteer?

This is all to be implemented on a voluntary basis, and it may take some lengthy discussion to persuade tech companies to centralise their existing programmes that deal with issues such as cyberbullying.

Culture secretary Karen Bradley spoke on BBC Radio 4, defending the voluntary aspect of the scheme. “I don’t rule out legislating if that’s what we need to do but I’m hoping to do it working with the the companies.

“We are concluding on how best we do it. Taking legislation through the House of Commons and Lords is not the easiest way to do it.”

Bradley also suggested that the government could change the status of some social media platforms to make them publishers, meaning more content regulation constraints.

Young people reporting inappropriate content

Nearly 20pc of 12-15-year-old participants in a study carried out for the green paper said they had encountered something on the internet that was “worrying or nasty in some way”.

The UK Labour party said that the announcement was not detailed enough, and called for more information around who exactly will pay the levy and what information the government will be seeking from social media and tech firms.

The safety of children online is an issue in Ireland, too, with a recent survey finding that 69pc of teachers don’t feel qualified to teach good internet-safety practices in school.

The darker side

Russell Haworth, CEO of Nominet, a UK organisation that promotes the internet as a tool for social good, said: “It’s absolutely right that the government is considering new rules to guide how we deal with the online issues that are affecting our children. The internet has brought so many benefits to our lives, but we can’t ignore its darker side.

“When we recently asked teachers their views on the impact of social media on their students, more than half said that it was damaging their pupils’ mental health, and fewer than a quarter said they had the right skills to help children deal with online issues.  Establishing better processes and raising awareness of the potential negative impacts the internet can have on children is a crucial first step in making everyone feel safer online.

 “But this is an issue which requires constant attention from the industry, schools and parents. Technology moves so quickly today that advice that’s helpful now can be made irrelevant overnight. All stakeholders need to engage with the issue and do their part on an ongoing basis to help young people understand the online landscape and how to get the best from it. There’s no question our kids need access to the internet, but they need support in understanding and handling the challenging issues that can emerge from it, too.”

Update, 2.25pm, 12 October 2017: This article was updated to include comments from Russell Hayworth.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects