In May 2021 the government published its draft Online Safety Bill stating it “establishes a new regulatory framework to tackle harmful content online”.
Its primary aim is to introduce new legislation that covers harmful online content. From abusive comments and bullying to pornography. And of particular significance, it pushes the onus of responsibility onto the companies hosting such material to ensure they keep their users safe. While some praise the accountability it will bring, others criticise the potential damage to free speech.
In October 2021 the focus on this draft bill was brought to the fore by the tragic stabbing of Conservative MP Sir David Amess while holding his regular face-to-face surgery with constituents. As his fellow MPs fondly remembered him, they also aired concerns for their own safety and debated why it is they must suffer so much online abuse. Prompting Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to cite the Online Safety Bill as an opportunity to close “the corrosive space online where we see dreadful behaviour”.
However we communicate, whether online, in person, or via good old-fashioned pen and paper, it should be courteous. And if it is not, it should be held to account.
In my many years of experience as a communications consultant, I find those who are bold and brash in their online comments are often weak when confronted directly. They criticise loudly via their social media feeds, but when asked to call or pop in to discuss: nothing. Radio silence.
Under the cover of anonymity and knowing they will go unchallenged, their spiteful words flow freely leaving those on the receiving end deeply distressed. How can this be allowed in a 21st century democratic society? If those same individuals were known and chose to share their vile comments in the street as their victim walked by, they would be arrested and charged accordingly. Rightly so.
Without accountability there can be no come back. No lessons learnt. No remorse. No change in behaviour.
While I am a big fan of online content and social media platforms, it really is time for such senseless bile to be reined in. This so-called ‘communication’ must be called to account.