This article was written by Damian and published in this week's Herald and Petersfield Post:
"With Elon Musk completing his takeover of the online platform Twitter, much media attention has again been on the evolution of social media and the impact for users.
Coincidentally I had the opportunity last week to lead a cross-party backbench Westminster Hall debate on Online Harms.
Ensuring people, especially children, can stay safe online is an important area of public policy and one that I have followed closely throughout my time as an MP, but particularly when I was Education Secretary and more recently as Security Minister.
It is though a complex issue, with many technical, legal and moral challenges.
For the most part, the online world is a fantastic thing – an enabler and a connector. It helps us keep in touch, find information quickly and generally helps us to run our lives more efficiently.
Social media is a significant part of our online experience. That’s even more so for young people – albeit that the platforms are different. Readers of this column are most likely to use Facebook and WhatsApp; for a younger cohort is more likely to be TikTok, Instagram and Snap Chat.
The spread of platforms is wide. Indeed – and this may surprise you – Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are now teens’ top three go-to places not just for messaging and entertainment but for news.
Much of social media is positive, especially in how it let’s us stay in touch easily. But it can also carry negative consequences, through the distribution, facilitation and magnification of harmful content, often to those who are the most vulnerable to its exposure.
The tragic case of Molly Russell shows just how enormous, in the worst cases, that impact can be. But there are many, many more cases, a ‘long tail’ of cases of harm to mental health, eating disorders, self-harm, and more.
Legislation is an important part of what we can do. But there is much more, too, including especially what the platforms themselves can do.
At the very acute end is maximising efforts to tackle child abuse. While some child abuse is perpetrated on the internet, the huge volume is about distribution. Every time that an abusive image of a child is shared, that victim is re-victimised.
Then there is the proliferation of online fraud. The number 1 category of crime by volume in this country is fraud, and almost all of it has an online aspect. It is generally ‘distance crime’ – that is, where the victim and perpetrator are far apart, often indeed in another country. That means we need a different way to address it, with a particular premium on stopping at source.
Disinformation is another area I had a policy interest in from my time as Security Minister. So-called ‘co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour’ online, sponsored by states, is helping to not only spread untruths but also sows the seeds of intolerance and division across different parts of society.
This is an area, though, that requires great care – because we absolutely must protect freedom of expression.
It is right that we are cautious about removing material that has a legal right to exist, but in this context, there is not always a hard line between what legal and what is not. An example I gave in the debate was use of emojis in racist abuse. No one was considering emojis when current legislation was written."