Google, Facebook To Work With Samaritans On Unsafe Content

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Health Secretary announces tech giants will work with Samaritans to limit harmful online content

A British government backed initiative is seeking to improve the response of tech giants to unsafe online content.

Unsafe content can include child abuse, self-harm, suicide and terrorism, as well as anti-vaccinating content.

It is reported that tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Snapchat will work alongside suicide prevention experts from the Samaritans.

Safeguarding initiative

The initiative will be formerly announced at a roundtable on Monday by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, the Guardian newspaper reported.

The new scheme is said to part of the ongoing government effort to get social networking firms to react quicker to harmful content.

It comes amid growing concern from parents about the amount of time children are glued to their screens. Cases such as 14-year-old Molly Russell, who took her own life after viewing self-harm images on Instagram, only further concerns about online content.

In March some of the world’s largest tech firms wrote to the British government, stating their position regarding the introduction of any new regulations about harmful online content.

It included Facebook, Google and Twitter, all of which reportedly told the culture, health and home secretaries that there needs to be a clear recognition of the difference between illegal and harmful content.

The government has also recently published a White Paper on “online harms”, and where it was revealed the government would create a new independent watchdog and legislate for a statutory duty of care for social media firms that could see senior executives held personally liable.

But the problem with that approach is that it could take many months or even years for the proposals to become law.

So ministers are seeking to find ways of changing the behaviour of the tech giants in the meantime.

According to the Guardian, Hancock said the new panel would “see us team up with Samaritans to enable social media companies to go further in achieving our goal of making the UK the safest place to be online”.

Hancock also said he would be urging the social media giants at Monday’s roundtable to take a “zero tolerance” approach to content making false claims about the risks of vaccinating children, after it emerged that measles cases have quadrupled in a year.

The initiative is thus expected to take evidence from online users with direct experience of mental health issues, suicide and self-harm.

“This partnership marks a collective commitment to learn more about the issues, build knowledge through research and insights from users, and implement changes that can ultimately save lives,” Ruth Sutherland, the chief executive of the Samaritans, was quoted as saying.

“There is no black and white solution that protects the public from content on self harm and suicide, as they are such specific and complex issues,” said Sutherland. “That is why we need to work together with tech platforms to identify and remove harmful content while being extremely mindful that sharing certain content can be an important source of support for some.”

Government crackdown

This move has been a long time coming.

In 2017 the government demanded that social networks and ISPs remove abusive, humiliating or intimidating content.

And Matt Hancock (then Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) stated in 2018 that he would seek to tackle “the Wild West elements” in the online world, with new laws for social networking firms.

Matters went further in February this year, when the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee warned social media firms that they should have a legal “duty of care” to children.

Soon after that, the Labour Party said that “radical action” was needed to “fix the distorted digital market.”

Tom Watson, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, called for a new regulator and claimed the Labour Party would “where necessary break up monopolies.”

Labour’s promise to break up firms such as Facebook, Google, or Twitter, certainly raised a few eyebrows, as it provided no details on how a British regulator would achieve a breakup of foreign tech firms mostly headquartered in the United States.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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