UK's Ministry of Fun considers what to tell social media firms about online bullying

Govt to consult on code of practice as bits of Digital Economy Act go live

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The UK government is to start talks with social media providers about a code of conduct that will guide their response to online bullying.

The code will issue social media companies with guidance on how to deal with online bullying, and is the first time that they will be subject to legislation on online bullying.

It is one of many, many areas covered in the Christmas tree-like Digital Economy Act, which was rushed through in the last few days of the previous Parliament before this year’s general election.

Although most of the provisions in the act need further legislation before they take effect, some elements come into force today, including the code of practice for online social media providers.

The act requires the code to be developed in consultation with social media platforms - as well as any “other persons” the secretary of state deems appropriate - and now that this section has come into force the government is required to set these wheels in motion.

However, a statement from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport* sent to The Register suggests that these wheels might be some oiling, with a spokesperson saying simply that the department was “considering how to take forward the consultation”.

DCMS declined to comment on which firms it would be talking to, but the act says that all those that will come under the rule of the code must be consulted.

The guidance will apply to all online actions that are directed at an individual and involves bullying, insulting or other intimidating or humiliating behaviour, but won’t affect how unlawful behaviour is dealt with.

It will include guidance for how social media providers can allow people to tell providers about such behaviour, how they should deal with notifications and how they inform the public about actions firms are taking against online bullying.

The idea of a code - prompted by the need for MPs to be seen to be taking action against increasing incidences of cyber-bullying - received general support in the Commons debate on the Digital Economy Bill.

During the final stages of the debate in the Commons, on 26 April, Labour’s Louise Haigh welcomed it as “a decisive step in the right direction”.

“This is the first time that social media providers will be subject to legislation on this issue,” Haigh said. “They will be required to have processes in place for reporting and responding to complaints about bullying.”

She acknowledged that some providers had taken steps to address the issues, but said that “the pace of change has to keep up with the scale of the problem”.

Last Friday, Facebook launched an ‘Online Civil Courage Initiative’ that it claimed would deal with extremist content and hate speech - by helping other groups to tackle it.

It said the initiative would offer NGOs and other organisations guidance on how to design anti-terrorism campaigns and help them work out how best to promote their messages with “data-driven insights”, as well as backing research on approaches to counter hate speech.

At the same time Mark Zuckerberg gave Facebook a new mission statement: “To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together", and said it would use AI tools to help build communities on the site. ®

*Since this specific UK government department covers Culture, Media and Sport, it has long been referred to as the Ministry of Fun in these parts.


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