Sunday, September 16, 2018

‘Facebook groups are not full of hate’

Jamie Bartlett on how the British Online Forums Bill threatens internet freedom.

This week, UK Labour MP Lucy Powell proposed a bill designed to curb the supposed glut of disinformation and hate speech online. The Online Forums Bill would order social-media firms to publish the names of any secret forum with more that 500 members – Facebook currently allows users to set up secret groups that are hidden from non-members. It would also make moderators of all Facebook groups legally responsible for the content published within them. The bill has received cross-party support and is just the latest in a long line of proposals to regulate speech on the net.

Spiked caught up with Jamie Bartlett, director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos and author of The People vs Tech, to talk about the bill.

spiked: Lucy Powell claims that many of these secret Facebook groups are set up with ‘malign motives’, which ‘normalise hate’. But is there anything inherently hateful in these groups?

Jamie Bartlett: No, of course not. Inevitably, some hateful groups exist. When you have been the target of abuse from these groups, as have MPs like Powell, perhaps that leads you to believe that’s all they’re about.

Nobody knows the exact numbers on this because they’re secret, but I’d be confident that the overwhelming majority of secret groups are either perfectly mundane, just people getting together to talk about a hobby, or activist groups. Lots of LGBT groups, for instance, will be secret because they know they might be targeted by people if the group were made public. Or anti-fascist, or libertarian groups, who don’t want other people turning up and trolling them, ruining their space of free assembly. That is how the overwhelming majority of how these secret groups are used.

The one thing she’s really not thinking about is, I guarantee you, if liberal Britain asks for this power, then illiberal Turkey, illiberal Russia, will be asking for it, too. And can you imagine how happy the Russian government would be to know about the existence of a secret Sergei Skripal support group or a Pussy Riot fan group on Facebook.

spiked: One of the key proposals in the bill is to make moderators responsible for what is published in the groups they manage. What are the implications of this?

Bartlett: It is essentially the same problem: finding a small problem and inadvertently punishing lots of innocent people with the ‘solution’. So when it comes to holding moderators to account, I understand the idea, you do have Facebook groups where hateful, malicious, untrue content is being shared. But if you put the responsibility for that on to a moderator, you’re going to end up landing all sorts of helpless, hapless hobbyists with the same level of legal responsibility as a newspaper editor.



Dean said...

How ironic. One article (above) claiming a secret Facebook group keeps a list of women who question transgender men's right to share private spaces with real women with the purpose of denying real women their free speech rights And another below that defending secret Facebook groups and claiming making they must be secret to maintain participants free speech rights.

Let me guess - those defending secret groups are liberals who wish their motives and actions to be kept secret. Or perhaps people engaged in illicit activities.

Those who want secret groups ended are conservatives targeted by liberals using secret groups. Or people who have been affected by illicit activities.

Anonymous said...

punishing lots of innocent people with the ‘solution’

That has been the way of Liberals and others. When they cannot catch the perpetrators, they punish everyone.