Wherever you stand on today’s culture wars, it’s undeniable that we’re living through a uniquely volatile period in human history.
The pandemic has driven many people even deeper into the online echo chambers they were already inhabiting before interpersonal interactions were effectively outlawed.
The internet is the battleground for this multidimensional war of attrition, while the very nature of online debate is being debated – online, of course.
Should modern societies become more censorious, preventing anything from being published online if it could offend or upset anybody, either now or in the future?
Or should we return to the internet’s more chaotic origins, where free speech is exactly that and controversial points of view can be debated (and debunked, if necessary)?
Laying down the law
If you have an opinion on this (and most people do), you might wish to keep abreast of developments regarding Ofcom’s all-important Online Safety Bill.
Currently in an early draft form, this 220-page document will eventually become the UK’s default stance on the future of online safety, laying down in law what is and isn’t acceptable.
It will govern everything from search engines to user-generated content, ensuring the services which host this material protect individuals from ‘certain types of online harms’.
Of course, the definition of those ‘online harms’ is being keenly debated in many quarters.
Ofcom plans to publish an initial consultation next year, which rather underlines how complex and multifaceted the future of online safety really is.
Central to this debate is the role online platforms will adopt, so the first phase of Ofcom’s research involves speaking to businesses who are already active online.
Have your say
Ofcom recently published a 28-question research form relating to its Online Safety Bill. You can download a copy of the Online Safety Bill here.
It’s aimed at businesses, organisations and groups rather than individuals. Ofcom is particularly keen to hear from academics, consumer representative bodies and regulators.
(Private individuals will be given the opportunity to have their say at a later stage in the process).
The survey wastes no time getting to the point. Question 2 is “Can you provide any evidence relating to the presence or quantity of illegal content on user-to-user and search services?”
It’s worth noting that this relates to the surface web, since the Dark Web is way beyond even Ofcom’s regulatory reach.
There are questions on how respondents tackle any complaints they receive, the extent to which illegal content is tracked and moderated, and the use of age verification technologies.
The first consultation will prioritise illegal content – from the extent to which it can be controlled through to the risk of children being harmed by it.
The deadline for submitting responses to Ofcom’s initial call for evidence is the 13th of September, and we’ll report the details of subsequent research phases right here.