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LONDON – Legislators want a chance at big tech over racist online abuse by England’s Euro 2020 footballers – but critics fear it will hit the bar in the end.
UK ministers say they have a plan to force social media companies to better deal with the kind of hatred directed against some of England’s youngsters after the team’s heartbreak against Italy on Sunday night.
Big questions remain, however, as to whether the proposed law will actually achieve its goals, amid concerns it leaves too much power in the hands of social media companies and evades major law enforcement problems and the tone of senior politicians.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were bombarded with racist messages on social media after the penalty shoot-out in the final against Italy on Sunday night. The move was swiftly condemned by the Football Association of England (FA) while Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on fans aiming at the players on Monday night to “crawl back under the rock you emerged from”.
Following the dispute, Downing Street cited the UK’s flagship online security bill, tabled in May, as the primary means of combating online abuse.
The bill, which is due to be examined by a bipartisan group of MPs later this year, has taken a long time.
According to the plans, a duty of care would be imposed on the social media platforms towards users, which is enforced by the communications regulator Ofcom. Fines of up to £ 18 million – or 10 percent of annual global sales, whichever is greater – could be imposed on companies that fail to comply.
Jo Stevens, Shadow Culture Secretary of the opposition Labor Party, is not convinced that the proposals in their current form would deal with the kind of abuse that has been inflicted on the British side.
“If you were Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, you would have to do what you are currently doing, which is filing a complaint with the platforms themselves, waiting a very long time for them to decide whether what has been posted is against their rights or not community guidelines, and they could at some point get the person to remove the stuff or get them off the platform, “Stevens told POLITICO. “But that would be it. It’s still essentially a system of self-regulation.”
The bill does not contain guidance on how to eradicate anonymous abuse or codes of conduct to combat racism, Stevens said.
Labor wants the law to make social media executives immediately criminally liable for their failures – a surrogate power the UK government wants to keep in reserve and use later if necessary.
“Platforms can just continue to work as they currently do,” said Stevens about the current plans. “Abuse will continue to spread freely and intensify.”
A spokesman for the UK Department of Culture overseeing the bill said the bill would “combat anonymous abuse,” but made it clear that the government wanted to avoid “blanket bans on anonymity on the Internet for some groups, such as people sharing their sexuality researching or engaging in domestic abuse is important. “
“However, all social media companies will have to do their due diligence, which means that repeat offenders will be discouraged from opening new accounts and working with the authorities to make it easier to find people who create accounts anonymously to share with others to abuse. “
But there are also concerns in the English Football Association. Edleen John, the FA’s equality, diversity and inclusion director, says the bill must recognize that when it comes to online abuse, it is not always “open words that are at stake”.
“Sometimes it’s emojis, sometimes it’s mass-produced,” she said. “Sometimes it is abuse that is technically legal, but of course just as harmful and has the same psychological effect as if someone invariably calls you a discriminatory term or an offensive word.”
England’s players have been targeted with monkey emojis, a racist symbol in some contexts, and John points out that this may reveal a “loophole” in the platforms’ community standards.
“If I have a son or daughter and I call them a cheeky little monkey and use the emoji, it’s not the same as using this emoji targeting a black soccer player who just missed a penalty or had a bad game “she warns.” Actually, this is the problem [platforms’] Community standards do not provide enough clear or rigorous guidance or guidelines that organizations then apply and follow. ”
Poppy Wood, a senior advisor at Reset, a lobby group formed by former Hillary Clinton adviser Ben Scott to push for new technical rules, says it is still unclear whether the bill will really solve the underlying problems. While harassment is illegal, it points out that the majority of individual abuse incidents are not against the law, even if they are hateful and abusive.
She believes the legislation should force social media companies to improve their underlying systems rather than just asking them to write rules on content that is deemed unacceptable.
That could mean taking steps to cut back on reinforcement on certain posts or dismantling hateful content. “We may have the right to have an opinion, but we don’t have the right to reach the widest possible audience,” said Wood. “The bill doesn’t quite reflect that, but it can happen very easily.”
Others say enforcing existing laws should be the government’s first priority when it comes to online abuse.
“The government needs to ensure that the police and the judicial system enforce existing criminal law, rather than shirking their responsibilities by making it a problem for social media platforms,” said Heather Burns, policy manager for the Open Rights Group. “Social media sites don’t run courts and prisons.”
Burns points out that virtually “the entire current wave of abuse can be immediately traced back to the people who shared it,” with social media platforms already able to “provide details to law enforcement agencies.”
Former Conservative Cabinet Secretary David Davis, a longtime civil libertarian advocate, said he believed Sunday’s abuse could spark a “mass movement” for change. But he warned MPs to “think about it coolly and calmly for a while”.
In addition to social media, there is also the explosive question of how Johnson’s government itself questions racism.
His government has already sent mixed messages about the kneeling, the anti-racism protest launched by American football player Colin Kaepernick. Downing Street said last month Johnson was “more focused on action than gesture” after England’s own players resigned in protest ahead of their Euro 2020 games. Home Secretary Priti Patel dismissed the move as a “gesture policy” and declined to criticize fans who booed players who had taken their knees before the games.
Johnson was asked again about the protest at the Downing Street press conference on Monday, saying he had always believed “people should feel free to show their respect and show how much they affect racism in this country at any.” Judge wisely “.
It’s a U-turn that has not escaped England center-back Tyrone Mings. He said Patel Monday evening: “You can’t start the fire at the beginning of the tournament by calling our anti-racism message ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretending to be disgusted when exactly what we are opposed to happens.”
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