Online Safety and The Lowest Common Denominator
The Bright Team
The Bright Team • Feb 10

Online Safety and The Lowest Common Denominator

by The Bright Team

Bright is built on the premise that those parts of our lives that are online should be as safe, happy, and enriching as they can be. Making that happen is partly a matter of personal responsibility and treating others with respect -- there’s no substitute for making good choices at the right time. But there is no question that we need structural, systemic changes as well. These major changes are something Bright is committed to promoting and incorporating into how we operate.

The UK Government’s proposed Online Harms Bill is one attempt to make those kinds of systematic changes. The law would impose serious penalties -- 10% of global revenue -- for platforms that don’t meet the standards for combating extremism, protecting vulnerable people, fighting against the spread of misinformation, and a range of other duties. It’s an important, if imperfect, start, and one that our team welcomes. Without a legal framework to build on, it’s very hard for a consensus to emerge that individuals and businesses alike can refer to when pushing for change.

Without a legal framework to build on, it’s very hard for a consensus to emerge that individuals and businesses alike can refer to when pushing for change.

At the same time, we want to caution against reading too much into the proposed bill. Not only has it not passed Parliament yet, even if/when it does, there will be pushback from the major platforms whom it threatens. You can tell that Facebook, Twitter, and others loathe the bill because they’re all saying “we welcome this bill.”

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They don’t.

They don’t largely because the large platforms can’t implement its requirements without massive costs or a major change to their business model. But these platforms also know how slowly legislature and courts move in response to technological change. When rules about privacy (like GDPR) came into effect, the social media platforms "welcomed" them, too, and promptly proceeded to ignore them as much as possible. Even when the resulting behaviour was an obvious violation of GDPR -- as with Google’s terms and conditions or Facebook’s conduct in France -- the consequences were hardly earth-shattering: fines were minimal and the consequences diffuse. It takes more than a nasty letter from the regulator to move the large platforms away from the lowest common denominator (if they even hit that).

And this is where all of the rest of us come in, together. The Online Harms Bill notwithstanding, the real forces for change are people who use social media. Demanding more accountability, refusing to use platforms that encourage or condone extremist content, and even posting critical feedback on the networks themselves are the things that can actually make a difference. It was collective outrage over facial recognition tools that got them banned in many locations and online, and it will be widespread demand for change that will give regulators the political cover to make laws like the Online Harms Bill have teeth.

We are all ready for an online environment that’s safer for everyone.

We are all ready for an online environment that’s safer for everyone. The Online Harms Bill is one way to move towards it, but being a part of an online community that’s healthier and promotes wellbeing is just as crucial. That’s why Bright exists -- to show that it’s possible to be better than simply the lowest common denominator. We’re ready to do more, and invite anyone who is as well to join us.

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Sue Gutierrez
Adrian Faiers
Mike Perez Perez
chris dickens
Tim Attenburrow
The Bright Team
The Bright Team

Two lawyers, two doctors, and an army officer walk into a Zoom meeting and make Bright the best digital social community in the world. The team’s education and diversity of experience have given us the tools to confront some of the toughest tech and social problems.

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