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Regulating (abuse on) Social media: a new approach?


11 july 2018
hosted by the Institute for Advanced Legal Studies (IALS),
Russell Square, London

The potential for the Internet to cause harm has been the subject of political consideration recently, with the House of Lords going through an inquiry into Internet regulation, the House of Commons carrying out an inquiry into fake news and the UK government’s Internet Safety Strategy Green Paper setting out some of the harms to individuals and society caused by users of social networks. Abuse of people through the misuse of social media is one of today’s great challenges, affecting a wide spectrum of society – such as the bullying of children by other children or misogynistic abuse, which are harmful, but not always, necessarily illegal. Just as in ‘real life’, combatting this type of abuse online is not straightforward. As with other facets of Internet policy, it involves a difficult task in balancing rights, including the right to freedom of expression.

Crucially, the political and public pressure to regulate in this area is very real. There are many perceptions that the current regulatory framework is not effective, or appropriate and up-to-date to deal effectively with these harms. Also, the idea that social media and other Internet intermediaries are mere ‘neutral hosts’ is increasingly being criticized – with calls to ‘responsibilise’ social media, and to reduce or remove liability exemptions in the law such as in a forthcoming review of e-commerce legislation: an evolution that would alter dramatically the ecosystem of social media and online platforms.

There is a need for an urgent reflection towards a policy and regulatory approach that helps reduce these online harms effectively, while preserving free speech and other rights. A number of approaches are emerging internationally, such as the European Commission’s approach to reducing hate speech. Models and approaches may be drawn from a wider range of sectors than electronic communications and the media. There are interesting experiences coming from fields ranging from broadcasting to health & safety and medicine.

In order to consider how harm on social media might be reduced while respecting fundamental human rights, panelists will explore an evolution towards a functioning, common sense policy and regulatory approach. The discussion would consider a number of current questions and suggestions, including calls for social media platforms to be subject to a duty of care - what the ‘duty of care’ in today’s online environment could look like, including in day to day, operational realities; how would a new regulatory approach be enforced, and by whom? Is additional legislation necessary, or is there a place for self- or co-regulation, or both?

Registration is now open. Download the form here.



Jim Killock

Jim Killock

Executive Director at Open Rights Group

Lorna Woods

Lorna Woods

Professor of Media Law, Essex University

Stephen Collins (Dr)

Stephen Collins (Dr)

Director of Policy, EMEA, Snap Inc.

William Perrin

William Perrin

Trustee, Carnegie UK Trust

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