December 14, 2021
Regulation of the Social Media businesses that have changed our world is overdue. Children in particular need protecting
The Guardian view on online safety: holding big tech to account | Editorial
It is impossible to know, in December 2021, how we will look back in five or 20 years’ time at the period during which social media companies such as Meta (owner of Facebook) and Google were allowed to become some of the most powerful businesses in the world, with minimal regulation. But the online safety bill now working its way through the UK parliament should be a line in the sand. Evidence of the damage inflicted by these companies, which make vast amounts of money from advertising (the source of 99% of Facebook’s income), is not new. But with the onslaught of anti-vaxx content during the pandemic, and shocking evidence from whistleblower Frances Haugen, who told legislators in the US and UK that Facebook’s algorithms “[make] hate worse”, the warnings have become harder to ignore.
The bill would create a new regulatory framework, and the prospect of named safety officers at the big digital businesses facing criminal prosecution if their employers break the law. The overall aim is to bring Democratic accountability and oversight to a sphere of life that has to a shocking extent been allowed to operate without them. No longer will giants including Facebook, TikTok and Google (owner of YouTube) be allowed to regard themselves as neutral “platforms”. Instead, they will be compelled to take far greater responsibility for the content that appears on their sites and feeds, and also – if the joint committee tasked with suggesting improvements to the bill has its way – for associated activity such as messaging.
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