15 Apr 2019

Who is really responsible for protecting children’s safety on the internet and is the criticism that the social media companies are getting at the moment Justified?

Who is responsible for protecting our children’s safety on the internet

Who is responsible for protecting our children’s safety on the internet, is a question nearly every parent in this country ask daily. Some say it is the responsibility of the social media companies. The social media companies say it is the responsibility of the parents. I think, that although both have a degree of responsibility, ultimately the responsibility rests with our government.
Blaming social media companies for all the internet wrongdoings might be convenient but incorrect. It is incorrect because placing the blame on them allows our government to forfeit its responsibility to protect us and to prevent harm form coming our way.
There are certain responsibilities that a government cannot simply delegate to third parties. Certainly not to third parties whose commercial interest contradicts the interest of the people, who government’s duty is to protect.
To understand the sense of vulnerability that an increasing number of people are starting to feel about internet safety, we need to look back at the government’s action, or more accurately, inaction over a period of nearly 25 year.

A brief history on internet policing

This year, the internet is celebrating its 30th birthday. Three decades that can broadly be broken down into three time periods.

The internet police in the early days

During its first ten years or so, there was hardly any government involvement with the way the internet was being policed. The internet, in the early days was considered almost an anarchistic place where people could do or say anything. There was a thriving for images of extreme nature and for all sorts of other exchange that in the offline sphere would put one away for a very long time. There was a sense of lawlessness everywhere and the government was quite happy let things stay that way. It kept the bad guys, the academics, the geeks and the crypto obsessed to socialise each with its own group. There was very little interaction between the groups. Those days, there was a real sense of community, or perhaps communities because each community was minding its own business, not interfering with other internet communities’ activities.

The internet police in the Middle Ages

Then the second phase of the internet came. The 10 that followed were characterised by corporate takeovers. The government still didn’t think the world wide web required any form of regulation (with a few exceptions). As the internet was effectively taken over by corporations, the regulation free-zone enabled giants such as Google and Facebook to grow fast. To keep the government away from their businesses those soon to become giants developed a concept of self-regulation. So as long as the government kept away from the internet, the internet companies were able to grow to monstrous sizes and in some cases, become bigger and richer than some governments.

The problem of course was that self-regulation placed internet companies in conflict with their duty to their hungry shareholders. So, despite giving assurances, internet companies didn’t really regulate the internet in any meaningful way. Instead, they did what any corporate body must do, which is to make itself as profitable as possible, within the law.

The internet police today

Fast forward 4 or 5 years, and here we are today. Finally the government has woken up to the realisation that the world wide web is in fact not a name for a different planet but rather part of the same world we all live in. And in this world, there are citizens and governments, and taxes, and police and, yes accountability. Only recently has the government began to accept that the internet is about real people and that it is every government’s duty to protect its people. Policing the internet cannot be delegated to stakeholders, in the same way that the policing of our streets cannot be placed at the hands of street gangs.

So is it the government’s responsibility to protect internet users?

So whilst it is fair to criticize, say, Facebook and other social media companies for the neglect and contempt they have so far shown in regard to protecting the safety and the well-being of their users, it is also be fair to say that our politicians have been letting us down for far too long. After all, it must be their responsibility to ensure that the all so powerful giants who already control so many aspects of our lives, aren’t’ also made to be the sole custodians of our safety and well-being.

Having left us all to fend for ourselves on the internet jungle, the government cannot be too surprised that massacres and other atrocities are now being broadcasted live on Facebook. Some of the horrific acts which had been committed by ISIS and by other mass murders, white supremacists or otherwise, would not have been committed if it wasn’t for the perpetrator’s ability and freedom to shock us live, in real time. Social media companies must take some responsibility but ultimately, it is the duty of the government to make laws that will protect us.
So, let’s remember that the people who are responsible for the well-being and for our safety and security are not the employees of Facebook or Google.
The ones responsible are the people we elected to protect us. Members of Parliament and government ministers with whom we entrusted our safety. We must be careful to not allow them to delegate their responsibilities to technology companies.

Where are the parents? Why do they not take more responsibility for protecting their children online?

I am often asked, how much of a responsibility do we as internet users have, to police the internet ourselves and decide whether we are going to watch certain images or share horror films of live events. After all, the more we share the more we encourage others to commit social media atrocities.
This is a very interesting question. It is easy to blame us, the people, for our part in watching and sharing horrific images via social media. At the same time, people should not be judged too harshly in this regard because after all, we are only human. When we see something that is shocking, something that horrifies us, we want to share our experience with others. It is the most normal thing to do. Often because it is too difficult for us to deal with it ourselves but also because we tend to seek validation as to our own moral values. We want to share our experiences with other people and say “hey have you seen this? have you seen that? Wasn’t it terrible/horrific/shocking/disgusting?

The net is closing, the internet police is here (to stay)

It is therefore incumbent on our government to create laws that will tell companies such as Facebook that they must do more. They must hire more people, they must monitor better, they must stop forcibly push undesirable information to our feeds through advertising or by auto-suggestions. Like it or not, the net is closing – the internet police is here.

Policing the internet

Internet police; by Yair Cohen on Amazon

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