Theresa May Again Demands Tech Companies Do More To Right The World's Social Media Wrongs

from the in-return,-politicians-promise-to-provide-more-bad-legislation dept

In the face of “extremist” content and other internet nasties, British PM Theresa May keeps doing something. That something is telling social media companies to do something. Move fast and break speech. Nerd harder. Do whatever isn’t working well already, but with more people and processing power.

May has been shifting her anti-speech, anti-social media tirades towards the Orwellian in recent months. Her speeches and platform stances have tried to make direct government control of internet communications sound like a gift to the unwashed masses. May’s desire to bend US social media companies to the UK’s laws has been presented as nothing more than as a “balancing” of freedom of speech against some imagined right to go through life without being overly troubled by social media posts.

Then there’s the terrorism. Terrorists use social media platforms to connect with like-minded people. May would like this to stop. She’s not sure how this should be accomplished but she’s completely certain smart people at tech companies could bring an end to world terrorism with a couple of well-placed filters. So sure of this is May that she wants “extremist” content classified, located, and removed within two hours of its posting.

May’s crusade against logic and reality continues with her comments at the Davos Conference. Her planned speech/presentation contains more of her predictable demand that everyone who isn’t a UK government agency needs to start doing things better and faster.

Although she is expected to praise the potential of technology to “transform lives”, she will also call on social media companies to do much more to stop allowing content that promotes terror, extremism and child abuse.

She will say: “Technology companies still need to go further in stepping up to their responsibilities for dealing with harmful and illegal online activity.

“These companies simply cannot stand by while their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery or the spreading of terrorist and extremist content.

“We need to go further, so that ultimately this content is removed automatically. These companies have some of the best brains in the world. They must focus their brightest and best on meeting these fundamental social responsibilities.”

“Go further…” but to what point? This is all May has said for years. Social media companies continue to struggle with moderating content, but it’s not for a lack of trying. They’re dealing with contradictory demands from multiple world governments, each of them declaring different types of speech to be unacceptable. The pressure isn’t imaginary. Twitter has taken proactive measures in response to Germany’s new hate speech law, resulting in some spectacular collateral damage. Other platforms are doing the same thing, even if the damage hasn’t been as ironically glorious.

May wants harder nerding, up to and including all-knowing bots that kill objectionable content before it reaches human eyeballs. She wants the impossible. Even if it were theoretically possible to police speech better with AI, that’s still years away from being the deployed at scale. Efforts that have been deployed have been routinely disastrous. Ask anyone how YouTube’s Content ID is doing handling copyright infringement and you’ll get a general idea of just how well algorithms police content.

For now, the problem is handled by a mixture of algorithms, human moderators, and crowd sourcing. The algorithms can’t reliably target unwanted content. The humans are, well, human — prone to error and bias. The last part — reporting functions for users — basically give every heckler a veto button, resulting in abuse of the system to bury content certain users don’t want to see. All these efforts work well for the governments demanding them — and these governments are the entities most likely to abuse them to silence dissent.

This is what the argument has been reduced to: calls for “more” without any interest in determining whether “more” will be helpful or even possible. The result will be the suppression of speech, rather than a victory over terrorism.

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Comments on “Theresa May Again Demands Tech Companies Do More To Right The World's Social Media Wrongs”

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Narcissus (profile) says:

Re: Obtuse to a blinding degree

Yes, it’s interesting isn’t it? That’s probably because grandstanding is much cheaper and easier than actually doing something constructive.

Terrorism, child porn, human trafficking, murder, drugs trafficking and theft are older than the internet by a substantial margin and some of those crimes might be as old as humanity itself. I haven’t seen a study yet that links growth of crime to the internet.

How many of the politicians that are proposing that Mark Zuck fixes the world, have proposed a serious plan recently to increase funding for additional police detectives to actually counter these problems?

Facebook et al. function as a nice lightning rod for all criticism of people that want the world to be fixable. It’s much easier to point fingers and let somebody else take the blame.

Anonymous Coward says:

she will also call on social media companies to do much more to stop allowing content that promotes terror, extremism and child abuse.

How about getting the police to look at such things, and do real police work and find and prosecute the criminals?

It is also worth noting that someone prepared to commit suicide for a cause is likely someone who feels alienated from society. Stopping such people from communicating does not eliminate the risk, but does make it more like that they will act alone. A lone wolf is much harder to find before they act, than someone using extremist forums, or associating with extremist groups because there is nothing to look at that gives warning of their possible intent.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Due to ideologically-driven cuts, we have fewer police resources for dealing with crime. Result: crime rate is rising. The Tories are trying to do everything on the cheap and they’ve bought into the idea that tax = theft by force, so what can we do apart from voting them out?

In the Red corner are the Socialists (real deal) led by Jeremy Corbyn, a principled idealist. Tempered by the neoliberal New Labour faction, his ability to effect change would be limited to a) the number of MPs returned to Parliament and b) the number of his own MPs who are willing to implement his agenda.

The Liberal Democrats, who are ostensibly the middle ground party but buy wholesale into neoliberalism, are too few in number and too lacking in credibility to make any difference.

That sorry lot is the range of choice we have in UK politics. God help us all because even the Socialists are all over surveillance and copyright maximalism.

ShadowNinja (profile) says:

Re: We can fix her problems right here, right now.

I was thinking we could fix it by banning Thersa May and any other UK politician from social media sites instead, with that ban including preventing them from even viewing it.

Then we could tell May the problem has been solved. All the ‘bad actors’ can no longer get to social media sites or contact anyone through it.

Anonymous Coward says:

The woman is a fucking idiot who is hell bent on turning the planet, not just the UK into yet another government controlled entity where no one, except those in government have any semblance of freedom and privacy! Everything found out about everyone will be passed on to the certain few who are really in charge of everything, the multi-rich, whose agenda is to basically enslave the world’s population to make yhem even more rich and more powerful! No one will have the right to or for anything! This all started with the last, purpose instigated financial crash. Look at how many governments there are today that actually represent the people snd their interests compared to how many are concerned eith nothing other than ensuring they continue to be the richest on the planet, the most powerful on the planet but dont have the plums to stand up and admit yo what they are foing! Fucking cowards, the lot of them!

JoeCool (profile) says:

Skewed priorities

These companies have some of the best brains in the world. They must focus their brightest and best on meeting these fundamental social responsibilities.

I don’t want the ‘brightest and best’ working on the endless task of filtering social media, I want them solving world hunger and curing all diseases… and finally making me a god-damned flying car!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Skewed priorities

The real problem with flying cars is that the cannot stop moving while in the air and have to keep more clearance than cars, so the rush hour would be a real nightmare, as they have to land before they run out of limited fuel or power. Also, air traffic control would be a nightmare as well.

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