Companies including Channel 4, BT and the BBC urge the government to place firms like Facebook under greater oversight.
Social media firms should be subjected to oversight by an independent regulatory authority, Britain’s top media bosses and telecoms firms have told the government.
In a letter to The Sunday Telegraph, the heads of Sky, BT, Talk Talk, ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC all banded together to demand that tech firms like Facebook and Twitter are placed under greater scrutiny. The group voiced concerns that social networks have the potential to do harm in a number of ways, including allowing the spread of misinformation and fake news, allowing child exploitation and negatively impacting their mental health.
In part this is opportunism by powerful players within regulated sectors, such as TV and telecoms, for the social media giants to be regulated in much the same way that they are.
The social media giants have created the problem for themselves. For years, they positioned themselves as curators of content, not owning or taking responsibility for it.
However, by creating successful algorithms to personalize feeds and suggested content, they have demonstrated an exceptional ability to influence and control content.
While they have been incredibly effective in profitable areas such as figuring out the best time and position for adverts to appear, they have been far less effective where there is no direct profit incentive such as protecting people’s privacy or tackling the rising tide of abuse and misinformation.
Not only is any form of regulation going to be incredibly contentious, but it will also be almost impossible to apply. The social media giants are truly international and a level of international agreement will be needed to regulate them effectively.
The calls for regulation have been growing and in the one market where they could be effectively regulated, the US, the president has already voiced concerns about their behaviour and what he perceives as bias.
What can be done in the UK alone that would not only be effective, but would avoid putting ourselves at odds with other markets that we will want to trade with post-Brexit, is an open question.
Unless the parties calling for this regulator can explain how they think it can be effective without wider global cooperation, they risk looking as if they are calling for self-serving, but ineffective measures.