Politics and media: the two just don’t seem to be able to avoid each other these days. From the misuse of personal data and threats of advertising cuts to politicians talking at industry conferences, principles, politics and publishing have combined to hit the headlines again this month.
Hot off the heels of Unilever CMO Keith Weed talking at the IAB conference last month, where he warned technology firms that “Unilever will not invest in platforms or environments that do not protect children or which create division in society and promote anger or hate”, Sadiq Khan has taken a similar strong stance.
Speaking at SXSW, Khan excoriated platforms such as Facebook and Twitter for fuelling societal divisions, expressing “growing concerns about the way some of the biggest companies on the planet are impacting our lives and the overall wellbeing of our societies”.
He spoke of an “increase in disconnect and disillusionment” of many communities in Britain, fuelled by Brexit and powered in part by social media and the tech revolution.
Abuse of social data is another major concern raised this month, with Cambridge Analytica at the centre of allegations – the company being accused of using the personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential election in 2016. With the London-based consulting firm’s offices having been searched by the UK’s Information Commissioner, we could see Mark Zuckerberg, the owner of one of the biggest media platforms in the world, face serious consequences – and we’re not just talking about the $37bn drop in Facebook’s value to date.
Khan said: “Understandably, there are concerns about the ways some of the biggest firms on the planet are impacting our lives. These new platforms have been used to exacerbate, fuel and deepen the divisions in our community”, adding that the issue “should worry democracies around the world”.
He went on to say: “We simply must do more to protect people online. Facebook and Twitter and other platforms are finally starting to react to the criticisms. But with the skills and resources the companies have at their disposal, I believe it’s possible to go further and faster.”
Khan admitted that politicians have been sitting on their hands while the tech world has exploded around them, and said “we all placed too much faith in the vision of great tech pioneers”. The stronger duty of care that he strives for will be the responsibility of governments and Silicon Valley working together for change.
If relationships can’t be forged, Khan warned, tougher regulations similar to those Germany has recently put in place may be echoed worldwide, where tech firms which fail to remove content like hate speech now face hefty fines. But as a big proponent of free speech, the mayor doesn’t back strict regulation.
He concluded: “The good news is that we’re only just at the beginning of this journey and if companies and politicians at all levels of government can work together to shape the future of tech, then I remain optimistic that we can utilise technology to create more united cities and countries, and optimistic that we can work together to instil hope for a better, more inclusive future for us all.”
To date we’ve seen these tech giants operate on their own terms, but with politics and big headlines involved, it’s unlikely this will last much longer.