The public have had enough of the harms caused by social media companies and they're demanding tough action.
Polling released last night by campaigning organisation the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) shows that the majority of the British public support both financial and criminal sanctions against social media companies that allow anti-vaccine propaganda on their platforms.
Few criminals have been responsible for as much harm to global peace and security as the small cohort of companies, all based in Silicon Valley which have exerted huge influence over our world over the past few years. We have handed over to them data about people all around the world, the right to decide what content we view and with how much prominence, and the terms of which discourse is conducted.
Facebook enabled Russia to influence the US Presidential election through its platform. Following this, Mark Zuckerberg vowed to use 2018 to "fix Facebook" but instead the platform was central to inciting a genocide against the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar.
Google's motto was "don't be evil", partially as a jab against its competitors in the tech world. Yet YouTube, which it owns, was found to be one of the main hosts for terrorist recruitment content, while its algorithm actively recommended users view extremist content.
Google's online advertising system, which has turned it into the largest ad agency in the world, places household name brands next to racism, bigotry, and fake news, funding this content and making hate and lies a profitable industry.
The outbreak of coronavirus ought to have heralded a change in approach. The responsibility on social media is clear when everyone across the world is under threat from the virus, and the quality of information we receive can decide whether we effectively protect ourselves and our neighbours. These companies talked a good game, promising a "crackdown" on medical misinformation. It quickly transpired, however, that they simply weren't taking the action necessary to protect people's lives.
Social media companies have permitted false cures to be advertised and sold on their platforms; they have enabled huge forums to grow in which incorrect medical advice is freely administered by those who reject medical expertise; hucksters seeking to get rich by flogging miracle remedies have built huge audiences online; fake news sites publishing stories which suggest the virus is fake or caused by 5G are monetised through adverts; and when dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories about the coronavirus are reported to them, they leave 90pc of it online.
The effect of social media companies' negligence is clear. Those who believe conspiracy theories about the virus are less likely to follow the guidance on social distancing, staying at home, and washing their hands regularly. Doctors report that patients are refusing treatment until its too late, because they believe fake news about the virus they read online.
This must be the last straw. Appealing to the moral compasses of those at the top of big tech hasn't worked. And if governments fail to take tougher action now, the next crisis born out of Silicon Valley will be the failure of a vaccine to effectively wipe out Covid-19. That is clear from the polling released yesterday by the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which showed that up to 31pc of Britons could refuse to be vaccinated. You won't find anything in the traditional media that is driving this anti-vaccine sentiment. The blame lies squarely with digital spaces.
I am joining the board of the CCDH and will be doing all I can to pressure the government to finally do something about this. Delay to Online Harms legislation is unacceptable. We need a timetable now for the publication of the Bill and its introduction to parliament. It should also include provisions to make it a criminal offence to maliciously and at scale disseminate medical disinformation.
As scientists work day and night to develop a vaccine that could see life return to normality, the government must use every tool in its arsenal to force the removal of misinformation that threatens the impact of the vaccine. Boycott them, fine them, threaten to lock them up-whatever it takes to finally force social media companies to act.