Social Media: News - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:55 pm on 11th January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Knight of Weymouth Lord Knight of Weymouth Labour 3:55 pm, 11th January 2018

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, made her case brilliantly, and I join others in saluting the leadership that she is showing the House by raising these issues and getting action in the Data Protection Bill. Her vision is exactly the opposite of that we see in the United States from the FCC in ending net neutrality, which is taking that country into such a dark place in this context.

I remind the House of my interests in respect of my employment at TES Global, which is both a publisher of what used to be known as the Times Educational Supplement and the provider of a substantial platform for teachers to find jobs and share teaching resources, so I find myself on both sides of the false argument, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding. Indeed, I am also an avid user of social media. On the way in here, LinkedIn told me to congratulate one Ray Collins on seven years working at the House of Lords, which I am of course happy to do.

Social media and user-generated content are here to stay. I do not believe it is possible to pre-moderate all the content shared all the time. If we were to ask social media companies to do so, it would be an extraordinary barrier to entry for anyone wanting to create competition in this space, which I think we would want if we want the sort of new tools and platforms described by the noble Baroness, Lady Scott. But I do not disagree that we need to do much better, especially on content accessible by children. It needs new policy thinking and a regulatory solution that respects the consumers’ desire to share digital content and their need for trusted content and providers. My view is that tech companies are media companies, but that does not mean that the regulatory regime for traditional media is appropriate or in the public interest. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, I think we need a new regulatory regime for online service providers.

The media need to keep evolving their business model, and will need new models of regulation, away from monetising content to generating traffic and data for other purposes within the business, in a new environment regulated by the GDPR. I also think that it is in the interests of the likes of Facebook to ensure that advertising revenue is fairly shared with the media companies whose content is widely shared for free on their platforms. I am told that they are having those conversations; I hope that we will get concrete action.

I also echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harding, about engineering time. Perhaps Google should extend its famous 20% time to a percentage, let us say even 10%, of its engineers’ time to help solve some of these problems.

The issue of fake news is, of course, ringing large in our ears. I am interested in how France’s President Macron is suggesting regulation of social media platforms during election periods. Perhaps we could restrict sharing to Ofcom-regulated news outlets, I do not know. We will have to see how that and the German experiment work.

Fundamentally, I would love to have a counterpoint on social media to my echo chamber. If I could press a button and see that, it would help my sense of what is going on on the other side. We need accountability, not always up to regulators but sometimes down to users. We will get some thanks to the Data Protection Bill. There is the right to explain and some data mobility measures provide accountability. I am also interested in data trusts and the politics of data. Perhaps we will end up needing collective action, the equivalent of a new digital trade union movement for platform users so that we can impose some data ethics and withdraw our data from the companies that are so hungry for it unless they give us the ethical safeguards that we need.

Finally, I echo what my noble friend Lord Puttnam said about more study of this in schools and in wider society. Then, perhaps, we can have an informed debate to find an imaginative policy solution to these pressing issues.