Theresa May’s ruling Conservative party has announced plans for a social media crackdown, seeking the authority to impose hefty fines on companies that do not comply with requests to remove fake news or hate speech.
Social Media Censorship on the Horizon in the UK?
Coming just weeks before the UK elections, the move is sure to stir up emotions among a citizenry already primed by the furor surrounding the proliferation of so called “fake news” during the 2016 US presidential election.
PM May sees government oversight of social media content as a necessary step toward better protecting minors using a platform that makes accessing violent, pornographic or false content tremendously easy. Part of her proposal will allow minors to delete content created before they were 18.
“The internet has brought a wealth of opportunity but also significant new risks which have evolved faster than society’s response to them. We want social media companies to do more to help redress the balance and will take action to make sure they do.”
Threatening Free Speech?
On the other side of the political divide, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party see the new Tory proposal as cynical political maneuvering, with spokeswoman Louise Haigh commenting that just three weeks ago the Tory’s were against any form of regulation, believing “the voluntary framework was enough…Now they’re trotting out tough talk that we know will be ultimately meaningless.”
The Liberal Democrats echo that sentiment, with Alistair Carmichael already rebuffing the proposal, saying “We need to be working with technology companies…..not pretending it’s an easy problem that can be solved with a press release.”
The Lib Dems Home Affairs spokesperson also invoked an Orwellian endgame, cautioning against letting governments decide “what constitutes acceptable free speech.”
Controversial current affairs host Max Keiser has also repeatedly rallied against government regulation of alternative points of view, claiming that the BBC, Britain’s national broadcaster, is a mouthpiece for the government.
The BBC heavily promoted the false narrative pushed by the Blair Labour party in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq invasion that has killed millions of Iraqis and resulted in a bloody, 14 year occupation.
The Battle for Information
One thing is for certain however, and that is the sway that social media companies now have in influencing the political arena. It is a widely-held belief that Donald Trump’s direct communication with the voting public via social media was an influential factor in the election, while news stories promoted on Facebook garnered hundreds of thousands of views.
It therefore looks as though enacting a national regulatory framework to police global social media companies would be an impossible task. In the past, a small group of newspapers and their owner held power over the news. Now, however, companies like Twitter and Facebook, and websites such as 4chan lead the way, disseminating and at times creating their own news cycles.
An example of the power of Facebook was recently seen in Thailand where the government backed down on a threat to ban the social network after a deadline passed to remove an unflattering video of the Thai King. Insulting the Monarch in Thailand is punishable by 15 years in prison.
The UK elections will take place on June 8.
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