First to make the move – in a way – was Twitter, with CEO Jack Dorsey pledging ‘a more aggressive stance,’ will be taken against harm perpetrated on the site. In a string of somewhat vague tweets, Dorsey promised tighter rules surrounding “unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies (sic) violence.”
Dorsey confirmed that more information would be delivered next week. In the meantime, he also conceded: “We see voices being silenced on Twitter every day. We’ve been working to counteract this for the past 2 years. We prioritised this in 2016. We updated our policies and increased the size of our teams. It wasn’t enough. In 2017 we made it our top priority and made a lot of progress. Today we saw voices silencing themselves and voices speaking out because we’re *still* not doing enough.
“We decided to take a more aggressive stance in our rules and how we enforce them. These changes will start rolling out in the next few weeks. More to share next week. Will keep this thread updated with our progress. We’re doing a daily meeting to ensure more urgency.”
Dorsey’s diatribe was made in response to the ‘WomenBoycottTwitter’ hashtag that erupted on the site as the sexual abuse scandal currently enveloping Hollywood tightened its grip.
But the subjects of controversial content, bullying and abuse have shrouded Twitter and Facebook for a long time now.
Over the past few months several ministers within the UK Government have taken exception to the firms’ apparent so-so approach on ‘hateful’ content. Security Minister Ben Wallace told Sunday Politics back in May that he was considering the pressures the UK Government could apply to social media companies to fight online extremism, while PM Theresa May pledged to ‘regulate online safe spaces’ which provide voices for terror in the wake of the London Bridge Attack in June.
Facebook then offered its own olive branch, through its announcement of ‘digital safety ambassadors’, which it plans to introduce in every secondary school in the UK. The tech giant has offered to train tens of thousands of pupils across the country’s 4,500 schools as digital leaders and anti-bullying ambassadors over the next two years, through face-to-face and online projects.
The scheme, delivered in partnership with charities Childnet International and The Diana Award, will be a pupil-centred scheme. The initiative was apparently inspired by a survey from market research firm ResearchBods, which found that 63% of 13-17 year-olds were ‘crying out’ for more education programmes led by their peers, with many victims of online abuse turning to friends before adults for support. Further reports also suggest that between 6% and 25% of children have experienced online bullying in some form.
Antigone Davis, Head of Global Safety Policy at Facebook, said: “This partnership is the next step in our ongoing effort to help young people build safe and supportive communities. Over the last decade, we have developed a wealth of innovative resources on Facebook that enable young people to look after themselves and their peers, from our updated Safety Centre, to our online reporting tools. By offering trained digital safety ambassadors to every UK secondary school we are now taking this commitment offline too.”
Last week the Culture Department announced the Internet Safety Strategy, green paper due next summer. However, the outlines of the campaign have already been described by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley, who summarised that rules about behaviour online would ultimately mimic those offline. Round tables between social media firms, ministers, tech firms, charities and mental health organisations are expected to kick-off the campaign over the next few weeks.
Whether Facebook and Twitter can appease the Government before its deployment next summer remains to be seen.
Rob Gelb, Founder of social network Kindaba, told DIGIT that the shortcomings of social media firms and their failure to offer safe spaces, spurred him to create a new, more private and family-friendly social site. Gelb said: “Facebook isn’t designed for kids, it’s designed for grown-ups – yet a lot of kids use it. Parents trust Facebook is a ‘big boy’ and should be able to police itself, but that’s not the case. Whether it’s Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram – all of these sites are being used more by kids, and they don’t have the kinds of protections that they need. Almost every day we hear about cyber-bullying and negative body issues are coming up as a result of social media usage in kids.”
“Kindaba’s focus is on privacy. It’s privacy in you feeling confident in knowing exactly who is seeing the stuff that you’re sharing. If you’re sharing sensitive pictures, sometimes as soon as you share something, it gets out of your control. For some people they want to maintain control and know who they’re sharing with and exactly who they’re connected to.”