10:58 GMT29 October 2020
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    The Office of Communications (Ofcom) will be given more power to fine Social Media companies if they fail to crack down on harmful content that is posted on their platforms.

    Dr Gordon Fletcher, co-director of the Centre for Digital Business at the University of Salford has commented in an interview with Sputnik on Ofcom's plans.

    Sputnik: Will the decision to grant Ofcom more power to fine Social Media companies help reduce the production of harmful content on various platforms?

    Dr Gordon Fletcher: There is definitely a need for a systematic approach to actually identifying and responding to these incidents, in terms of what happens on social media, but whether giving Ofcom those powers is somewhat indefinite in terms of what that will look like, and what the power will be in terms of fines.

    The fines seem to be me as being only part of the need that’s there, and in some respects, the key issue, of course, is that the majority of these social media companies started as relatively small organisations, where the purpose was to connect people, they didn’t think and probably couldn’t even have known about some of the wider consequences, as they got larger and larger.

    In many respects; these companies just don’t have built in the scale, and mechanisms of operation they need to monitor the type of material that they are now meant to control, that’s the real challenge, that’s kind of the absolute core of the challenge.

    Sputnik: Do Social Media companies genuinely care about the issue of the distribution of harmful content?

    Dr Gordon Fletcher: You would hope that social media companies do have a sense of corporate social responsibility; you would hope that they recognise their role in this situation.

    Obviously they are not necessarily going to be admitting fault or liability, but what you would hope that any responsible organisation would do, is that they recognise that they have a role to play, and that role is significant and pivotal because they hold the keys as it were.

    The company itself should feel a responsibility for it, in the sense that they are a corporate citizen, and that they are touching the lives of millions of people, so if they are not founded on that principle; then we have a problem, it’s a more fundamental problem, that is being reflected in this need for Ofcom to become involved.

    Equally; these are, by and large, highly profitable companies, and it seems only fair that some of that profit actually should be re-directed back into the company, in terms of building up the capability to adequately monitor and identify, what is going on within the space, but it’s not so cut and dry I suppose, in some respects.

    Sputnik: Will any potential fine dished out by Ofcom be enough to coerce Social Media companies into policing their content more thoroughly?

    Pedestrians walks past the doors of the BBC's Bush House in London. File photo
    © AFP 2020 / NICOLAS ASFOURI
    Dr Gordon Fletcher: We are dealing with a very particular type of organisation, they deal in very large numbers in terms of money, and the number of people that they actually engage with each month, so in some respects, a significant fine would force their hand, but equally there’s a trade-off, because the cost of doing this job properly, which is far more important than the value of the fine, is significant in its own right.

    You don’t want to be in a situation where it’s cheaper for the organisation to pay the fine, than it is to adequately monitor and control the social media space, so in some respects, you do need to be looking at quite significant fines to make it more than just a slap on the wrists or a warning, to compel them to make the investment, which is really what is needed in that type of monitoring and support for people on social media.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Tags:
    social networks, Ofcom, U.K, fine, social media
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