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Rules, fools and regulators – The Botten Line February 2020

After its own enforced winter break, The Botten Line is back with its first blog of a new decade.

As ever, please feel free to comment below or leave any thoughts for future discussion points danb@december19.co.uk.

Rules, fools and regulators – Ofcom the new enforcers in town

Historically, regulators have lived to protect the public from the actions of companies and institutions but following this week’s statement from Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan and Home Secretary Priti Patel, things are about to change.

Now, after consultation, broadcast regulator Ofcom have been given responsibility to protect members of the public from each other.

The advantages to this appear obvious and clearly beneficial.

Ensuring companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook maintain a “duty of care” to users by ensuring that illegal content posted by its users is removed and monitored will have an immediate impact on cyberbullying and self-harm imagery.

Additionally, if said firms fail to protect their users from seeing this material then they will face fines, or worse. At present, we don’t know what these fines could actually amount to but Ofcom have history in this area. In the summer of 2019, a £200,000 fine was issued to RT for seven programmes covering the Salisbury spy poisoning, the Syria armed conflict and the Ukrainian Government’s position on Nazism – content that breached “impartiality and broadcast rules”

What’s interesting though is the definition of sites that Ofcom will cover. Forget your traditional behemoths, any website which publishes “user generated content” will be under Ofcom’s watchful eye, which, when you think of it, will cover smaller, niche online forums and the comments on news websites as well.

The old media powers will see this as another form of censorship and particularly onerous on their time and resource when they would argue they are not the heart of the problem.

Also, what about advertiser websites which link to Trustpilot reviews on their services or welcome user comments on their social channels? Will they have to monitor this content as well in the same way?

Anything that can be done to clear up the murky world of online poison is a win, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out in practice.

Free speech, as it should be, is paramount but the Government’s imminent proposed guidelines will really show up the devil in the detail.

The Spotify innovation continues and the kids (and parents) are alright

Talking of protecting potentially vulnerable groups online, it was great to see Spotify introduce its long-awaited Kids app this week parental controls.

As a massive music fan and father of two boys, it’s great to see them find their own way in the world of audio exploration until they chance on the explicit lyrics of Nine Inch Nails ‘Closer’ (seriously, look it up if you want) which, played at top volume, doesn’t exactly get you any Dad brownie points.

This then, is a great move from Spotify. Designed specifically for kids aged between 3 and 13, it’s available to Spotify Premium Family subscribers and launched to coincide with the Childnet International’s Safer Internet Day (11th February).

It gives parents the tools to protect children from explicit content, something that has been petitioned for back in 2012, four years after Spotify founded.

Of course, there is a win for Spotify as well. They will now be able to separate the behavioural data it can collect from adult users and child users who may be using their parents account (check).

With 6000 handpicked tracks and selected 130 playlists on tap from Spotify, it also allows parents to choose content for younger or older kids if they wish meaning that you can still influence your flesh and blood in a good way – think George Harrison having an equal footing with George Ezra.

Plus, kids can deselect any songs as well if they wish allowing me to listen to Straight Outta Compton whenever I like, in isolated splendour.