The Labour Party want to introduce a new regulator with the power to break up tech monopolies in an attempt to “fix the distorted digital market”.
Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader and shadow secretary of state for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, vowed to break up tech firms by creating a digital bill and legal duty of care if they fail to protect children and young people on their platform.
Social media regulation
Watson believes that the power wielded by large tech and social media companies is causing serious social harm and subverting democracy.
He referred to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life after viewing self-harm and suicide content on Instagram.
“This is the kind of harm online content can contribute to when the right safeguards are not in place, a consequence of an industry that too often chooses to profit from children, rather than protect them.”
The government is said to be working on new laws to force digital companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to remove content that could be considered harmful to users on the platform.
Culture minister, Margot James, also announced on Tuesday (Feb.5th) that social media companies would face new legislation unless they do more to protect children by taking down content promoting self-harm.
“Social media companies have always enjoyed legal protection from liability for user-generated content and this laissez-faire environment has led some companies to pursue growth and profitability with little regard for the security and interests of their users,” said Ms. James.
Mr. Watson said that he does not have all the answers and it would very difficult to action, but Labour remains committed to the challenge.
“Protection our democracy from subversion”
In addition to prioritising the safety and protection of children online, Mr. Watson also wants to establish rules that “protect our democracy from subversion” online by introducing “digital democracy guarantees”.
The Labour Party pledge comes ahead of the government’s release of the Online Harms white paper, which will be released at the end of this month.
“Social media is causing and exacerbating mental health problems in children and young people,” the Labour Party said. “The online world has become a haven for hate speech and extremism. Fake news online is undermining trust in democracy and even compromising elections. Algorithms with no human oversight are making significant decisions that affect life chances and what information you see online. Online retailers are undercutting high streets and failing to pay their fair share of taxes.”
Labour’s Watson believes the root of many of these problems is a market distorted by data monopolies.
“Our task is to steer the power of technology back towards the public interest,” said Watson. “Technology responds to the desires of its users, the structure of its market, and to the limits of the law. These things can all be changed. We can’t afford a laissez-faire approach to digital regulation any longer.”
“At the centre of this crisis is an imbalance of power,” said Watson. “Data monopolies and a distorted market. Each year, businesses make billions by extracting and monetising personal data from each and every one of us.”
“And yes, they offer us a service in return,” he said. “But only worth a fraction of the fortune they gain. This is ‘surveillance capitalism’. The power dynamic between platforms and users has long been lopsided.”
“We need to take more control over how our personal data is collected and monetised through a Data Bill of Rights,” he added. “Customers should benefit from the value of the data we provide and the inferences made from it.”
Watson is not the first to promise to take action against social media firms, but he is the first to claim that a Labour created regulator would be able to bring forward laws that could crackdown on large online corporations.
Earlier this month, the UK parliament’s Science and Technology Committee published a report calling for new legislation that will force social media firms to fulfil a duty of care to their users, particularly when it comes to protecting children.
Despite mounting concern about social media and its impact on children’s health, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPVH) concluded in their report, which was released last month, that there’s not enough evidence to suggest that screen time is “toxic” to children’s health.
Instead, the RCPCH report suggests that parents “approach screen time based on the child’s developmental age, the individual need and value the family place on positive activities such as socialising, exercise and sleep”.