Digital lives

Forget freedom of speech, let the Police take over Facebook

By Oliver Smith 7 March 2017

We need a digital bobby on the beat.

In the ‘real world’ seeing a bobby on the beat inspires a feeling of safety. The idea that there’s someone looking out for your protection and wellbeing.

But as our lives become digital, that relationship between people, police, and private spaces has shifted online.

The internet is held up as a bastion of free speech, praised for all the un-moderated expression and creativity happening around us.

Indeed the very idea of the Police patrolling Facebook probably sounds quite draconian to you, an expansion of the surveillance state, but it really shouldn’t.

Protecting our digital lives

This morning the BBC unearthed groups on Facebook where users were discussing and swapping child abuse material.

The Beeb told Facebook about this back in 2015, but two years later only 18 of the 100 images reported have been removed by Facebook’s moderators.

82 were said to not breach “community standards”, but what about the law?

In the real world this is the equivalent of the BBC discovering a group of paedophiles meeting in a pub to share images of child abuse, then asking the pub to ‘moderate’ the conversation, which it seems inept to do so.

Time for an intervention

Facebook has repeatedly shown it lacks the resources to ‘moderate’ the digital lives of its 1.8bn users, whether that’s from the spread of fake news, paedophile rings, organised criminal gangs or just general violence.

Today most of you reading this article will spend more time socialising, communicating, and hanging out with friends and family through digital mediums rather than physical.

Sending WhatsApp messages, posting pictures on Instagram, organising events on Facebook, or even just sending good old email.

The digital portion of our lives today matches, or even supersedes, that of our physical lives – so we need a better way to protect our digital lives.

999 for online

Just like how the police protect you from crime, the NHS will help if you’re ill, and the fire brigade will put out your house if it’s on fire… so too we need emergency services for our digital lives.

And since Facebook has demonstrated its inability to police its own community, maybe it’s time the actual Police took a more official role within the community?

The idea sit uneasily with many people, especially those who see the internet as a place largely free of rules and order.

But if we really want our digital lives to be as safe, expressive and free as they are in the real world, then maybe a bobby on the beat isn’t such a bad thing.