Culture secretary warns Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg of end to self-regulation

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Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has said talks with Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg on how to tackle online harms were constructive but warned social network giants that they can no longer rely on self-regulation.

The minister flew out to the US this week to speak with Mr Zuckerberg and other tech leaders in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, about the UK’s forthcoming White Paper, which is expected to set out regulatory measures to make social networks more accountable for the content shared on their platforms.

Mr Wright said he found Mr Zuckerberg very engaged and well-informed during Thursday’s meeting, with the White Paper, disinformation and Facebook’s own strategy to confront harmful content all on the agenda.

Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright (Victora Jones/PA)

“I’m pleased that we’ve had this engagement and been able to speak to Mark Zuckerberg directly about our thinking on the forthcoming White Paper,” Mr Wright said.

“The Government’s objective is designing an effective system, and it was useful to speak to him and his team about this in some detail.

“There is a good understanding that the UK Government wants to keep its citizens safe online and will be putting in place structures that no longer rely on self-regulation.”

The move comes amid increased concern about the types of content easily obtainable on social networks, highlighted by the case of Molly Russell, who died in 2017 aged 14.

Her family found material relating to depression and suicide when they looked at her Instagram account after her death.

Facebook said it found the meeting with Mr Wright “productive” and would “support meaningful regulation” from the UK.

“We’re pleased to have had a positive and productive conversation with the Secretary of State and Minister on Thursday, and hope they found the discussion equally fruitful,” said Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president for global policy.

“We welcome the constructive and evidence-based approach the UK Government is taking on these issues, and we talked about the ways in which Facebook has been investing in people and technology to keep everyone, especially young people, safe on our platforms.

“The UK is a hugely important country for us – it is home to our largest engineering centre outside of the US with over 2,300 employees.

“We support meaningful regulation and we are hopeful that the UK Government’s forthcoming online harms White Paper represents a serious attempt to tackle the issues in a coherent way.

“We look forward to continuing to work together to get this right and of course we will work within any subsequent legislation.”

Social media
The Government is set to publish its online harms White Paper by the end of winter (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Wright was joined by Digital Minister Margot James on the visit, in which they also met representatives from Twitter, Apple, Google, YouTube, Snap and Tinder.

“We’ve had good engagement from all the companies we met in Silicon Valley over the last three days,” Mr Wright said.

“The design of the system is really important to get right and we’ve had useful discussions on this. The UK Government will do what it believes is necessary to keep its citizens safe.”

Internet safety charity Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) warned the Government that child victims of sexual abuse could be affected by unintended consequences if internet regulation is rushed through without taking a balanced approach.

The organisation cautioned against “rushing into knee-jerk regulation which creates perverse incentives or unintended consequences to victims” and urged politicians and policymakers to work with social networks to develop the best possible regulatory framework, rather than simply imposing it on them.

Chris Price
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