Advertisers should raise abuse concerns with social media firms – minister

Advertisers should put pressure on social media firms to clean up their act, Media Minister John Whittingdale suggested as the fallout continued over the online abuse aimed at England’s Euro 2020 stars.

Mr Whittingdale said the Government’s forthcoming Online Safety Bill will force tech giants to exercise a “greater duty of care” but suggested that businesses which advertise on the platforms can exert pressure now.

And he said there is a need for platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to take action themselves to tackle material which is “not just offensive but, in some cases, is harmful”.

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Media Minister John Whittingdale said advertisers should put pressure on social media firms to clean up their act (House of Commons/PA)

His comments came after England footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were subjected to vile online abuse after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final defeat against Italy.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Mr Whittingdale said: “There is an absence of regulation for the platforms at the moment and there is all sorts of content which we think is potentially harmful on those platforms.

“Racist abuse is an example, it isn’t the only type of content which is harmful.

“That is why the Government has been looking at how we should bring the platforms under the oversight of the regulator and to require them to exercise a greater duty of care.”

Asked whether businesses which advertise on social media have a role to play in putting pressure on the social media giants to change, Mr Whittingdale said: “Yes. The platforms themselves – well, now you are talking about Facebook or Twitter or Instagram – they are huge platforms, but nonetheless advertising is a part of their product.

“So obviously I’m sure businesses will want to talk to platforms to make sure they are happy with the kind of content they might find themselves associated with.

“But in terms of the Government’s action, we do think that there is a need for greater action by the platforms to tackle this kind of material which is undoubtedly not just offensive but, in some cases, is harmful.”

Under the Government’s plans Ofcom will regulate harmful online content.

“It is for the platforms to take action but Ofcom will be making sure they are meeting the requirements which will be set out in the regulation,” Mr Whittingdale said.

The minister also said there is a “skewed” relationship between social media firms and “traditional” news outlets.

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“The platforms are now the major providers of news, but of course that news is not news that they themselves have sourced. They are taking it from traditional news publishers like newspapers and broadcasters.

“And the relationship between the platforms and those publishers is skewed. There are a small number of very powerful platforms and we are concerned that they are behaving in an anti-competitive way.”

The new Digital Markets Unit will make sure platforms “are not exploiting their dominance” and ensure “there is a proper, fair relationship in the negotiations between the platforms and the publishers”.