Coronavirus: Bringing Technology Policy Under the Spotlight

Before the coronavirus crisis, the UK Government was in the process of looking into online harms and formulating legislation to combat them, with the proposed measures designed to be the ‘first of their kind’.[1] The emergence of coronavirus has highlighted the full breadth of online harms and their potential for damage, and accelerated the Government’s appetite to respond.

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

National lockdowns have meant people have turned in droves to technology and online platforms for communication, entertainment and work purposes. As a result, ‘lockdown has amplified and underscored longstanding shortcomings in the online environment’.[2] These include: cyberbullying, disinformation, underage exposure to legal content, and illegal content. For example, an analysis of digital toxicity by AI start-up L1ight reported a 70% increase in hateful and abusive language among children and teens in online chats in March 2020.[3] In addition, a report by the House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies committee referenced a ‘pandemic of misinformation’[4] occurring online throughout the coronavirus crisis, reinforced by Facebook CTO Mike Shroepner confirming that there has been a ‘huge increase in misinformation that we consider dangerous.’[5] With the consequences of the virus expected to persist for a ‘long period of time’[6], the need to safeguard children and vulnerable people online has never been more apparent.

However, coronavirus has amplified the positives of technology too. Many platforms have been integral to remote working and have seen a dramatic uptick in their usage. For example, Zoom has revealed that it surpassed 300 million daily meeting participants in April, a huge jump from the 10 million reported in December.[7] Other technology businesses, for example those in the video games industry, have teamed up with the Government to promote key health messages and to combat loneliness and social exclusion.[8]

SHAPING UPCOMING LEGISLATION IN THE UK

The Government published its response to the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee Report on Immersive and Addictive Technologies in June 2020.[9] The Age Appropriate Design Code which is a set of 15 flexible standards aiming to provide built-in protection for children when designing and developing online services was also laid before Parliament in June 2020.[10] It is expected that the Code will come into force in early August 2021.

Awaiting the Online Harms legislation later this year, it looks ever more likely that technology companies of all sizes will be expected to review the potential harms that their platforms could bring to users, and that substandard efforts to do so will be reprimanded by an independent regulator.[11] The lockdown has highlighted how technology businesses can be a force for good, as well as exposing negative aspects of the online world. As the UK Government designs its ‘ground-breaking’[12] legislation, all businesses should invest to understand what it will mean for them and make representations to ensure it allows them to grow and succeed responsibly.

BREVIA CONSULTING PROVIDES STRAIGHTFORWARD POLITICAL AND COMMUNICATIONS SUPPORT TO BUSINESSES AND CHARITIES

Discover how Brevia can help you and your organisation by contacting the Brevia Team on 020 7091 1650 or contact@brevia.co.uk

 

[1] UK to introduce world first online safety laws, 8 April 2019, link

[2] CHIS letter, May 2020

[3] Rising levels of online hate speech and toxicity during this time of crisis, L1ght, April 2020, link

[4] Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust, House of Lords Democracy and Digital Technologies Committee, June 2020, link

[5] Facebook upgrades its AI to better tackle misinformation and hate speech, TechCrunch, May 2020, link

[6] The Guardian, 22 April 2020, link

[7] The Verge, 23 April 2020, link

[8] Government and video games industry join forces in fight against coronavirus, April 2020, link

[9] Government response to the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee Report on Immersive and Addictive Technologies, June 2020, link

[10] Information Commissioner’s Office, 22 January 2020, link

[11] Government minded to appoint Ofcom as online harms regulator, 12 February 2020, link

[12] The Guardian, February 2020, link

LATEST NEWS

Energy

What the Energy Security Strategy tells us about the Government’s current priorities

After several weeks of reported delays, disagreements and leaks, the Government has finally published its Energy Security Strategy. Crucially, the Strategy provides us with an insight into the main influences and influencers of this Government. With the next general election a mere two years away, the Prime Minister appears to be moving away from the climate focus seen at COP26. Instead focusing on internal party politics and maintaining support within the Conservative . Below, Brevia has unpacked some of the telling signs of what is currently influencing Government direction on energy policy.

Read More »
Brevia

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will impact UK energy policy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the world. The ways it has done so are yet to be fully understood. Many of our post Cold War assumptions have been upended: Germany has abandoned its longstanding policy of maintaining a limited armed forces to commit €100 billion to defence spending; Switzerland has departed from its historical neutrality to apply sanctions to Russia; Finland is now openly discussing NATO membership and things we had assumed would never happen continue to do so on a daily basis. Set against the human tragedy that is unfolding in Ukraine, these events can seem small or insignificant in comparison. Nonetheless, they are likely to have enduring consequences for everyone in Europe. Particularly when it comes to how Europe, including the UK, powers itself.

Read More »
General

What did the White Paper tell us about the Levelling Up Agenda?

Last week, the Government published its long-awaited Levelling Up White Paper. The White Paper goes some way to answering the vexed question of ‘What is levelling up?’, by setting out twelve missions the Government hopes to accomplish by 2030. In addition, the Paper sets out a framework for extending devolution in England which could increase the transparency of the process. However, new funding commitments are thin on the ground, and critics suggest the Government has not provided enough money for Levelling Up to succeed.

Read More »
  • Get in touch to arrange your free monitoring trial.