A leading academic at King’s College London has published an op-ed making the case for regulation of social media citing the landmark conviction of antisemite Alison Chabloz, which was brought about by Campaign Against Antisemitism.
Daniel Allington, a senior lecturer who is also a volunteer with Campaign Against Antisemitism, wrote about how “conspiracy theories pumped out by unregulated social media platforms” had a real life impact on whether people followed Government rules regarding the COVID-19 lockdown. Campaign Against Antisemitism has for years similarly been warning that antisemitic material online was not only problematic in itself but also had real world implications.
Dr Allington noted the discrepancy that when unfounded conspiracy theories are propagated on broadcast radio or television they are challenged by a regulator, Ofcom, as for example in the recent case of the antisemitic hate preacher David Icke. But the same conspiracy theories face no sanction when promoted online, despite the equal if not greater danger they pose. 80,000 viewers saw Mr Icke’s interview on the television; six million watched it on YouTube. But whereas the London Live channel was sanctioned by Ofcom, the social media platform faced no regulatory censure.
Dr Allington rightly noted that this is because “social media platforms do not regard themselves as publishers but rather as communications networks,” and just as what newspapers and television stations present to readers and viewers is regulated, so should social media companies be regulated for what they permit to be uploaded onto their platforms and promoted through their algorithms. Social media companies already do make decisions, Dr Allington observed, about what they allow to remain on their platforms, similar to publishers, but unlike publishers they are not regulated.
Turning to the case of Ms Chabloz, Dr Allington recounted that she was found guilty of broadcasting antisemitic songs on YouTube, a conviction resulting from sustained legal action by Campaign Against Antisemitism. Ms Chabloz was prosecuted under the Malicious Communications Act, but Dr Allington rightly noted that the problem is far greater than one offender and that the social media companies should be penalised for publishing her material, but this cannot be achieved under Communications legislation.
“Social media companies are not communication networks like the telephone — they are media companies and publishers. That needs to be recognised now,” Dr Allington concluded, observing that social media companies did take action following crackdowns on the mass copyright violations that used to occur when users would upload films and music videos without permission from the owners, and therefore they are in principle capable of changing, but it requires the Government to act.
Campaign Against Antisemitism continues its robust engagement with social media companies over the content that they enable to be published, and we continue to make representations to the Government in this connection.