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Throughout 2017 and 2018 hostile press coverage of the major technology platforms has intensified.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have been attacked separately or collectively for a wide range of issues, including: allowing the spread of terrorist and extremist content; providing the means for interference in elections and the promotion of fake news; permitting child abuse; hosting content that is inappropriate or harmful for children; allowing hate speech and cyber-bullying; and creating addiction and depression. Platforms have been criticised for their policies and for failures of enforcement. Twitter has been singled out for selling influence through anonymous “bot” accounts.

Expressions of political concern and preparedness to act have also increased and internationally, regulation is emerging in a piecemeal fashion. It is clear that Google and Facebook are taking the threat of regulation seriously, with the announcements of additional content moderation resourcing. By the end of 2018 Facebook has promised 20,000 content moderators (up from 4,500 at this time in 2017), while Google has pledged overall staffing of 10,000 against the issue. 

ISBA is concerned that for the smaller platforms, Twitter and Snap, the investment required in content moderation and in the machine learning to identify suspect content will prove prohibitively expensive, leading to a concentration of unsuitable content on the weaker platforms and setting up another huge barrier to entry, stifling future competition. While there have been some efforts to share knowledge and best practice, through the EU and Global Internet Forums to combat terrorism, ISBA’s view is that these efforts, while laudable, are not going far enough in practice to address the raft of issues which are in front of us. ISBA is further concerned that the individual efforts of the tech companies in this area are a further example of them “setting and marking their own homework”, which compromises their selective disclosures.

We believe that a position consistent with ISBA’s values and manifesto is to explore the scope for independent, industry-wide, global self-regulation, following the principles of the UK experience. Apart from staving off statutory regulation, ISBA believes such a body could have benefits for the individual participants: improved brand reputation; reduced cynicism around change; credibility of transparency reporting; and the creation of a level playing field for smaller or new market entrants.

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