Writer Stephen Fry has called for Facebook and other “aggregating news agencies” to be reclassified as publishers to prevent fake news and online abuse from spreading by making social media subject to the same legal responsibilities as traditional news websites.
Speaking at the Hay literary festival’s program to mark the quincentenary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in 1517, Fry accused social media platforms such as Facebook of evading responsibility for their content because they claim to be platforms, rather than publishers. He added: “Given that they are now a major source of news for 80% of the population, that is clearly an absurd anomaly.”
The writer also said that if Facebook, Twitter and other similar platforms recognized their responsibilities as publishers, it would definitely aid them to better police their content for “unacceptable libels, defamations, threats and other horrors, that a free belief in the value of the press would, as a matter of course, be expected to control.”
Last week, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were forced to either remove hate speech and sexually explicit videos or face steep fines following tough new pan-European laws.
Fry concluded that the issue of legal liability of social media platforms is admittedly “small potatoes” compared to “some huge potatoes that are looming” as he gave the example of the IT system failure of British Airways on Saturday that led to their flights being grounded at Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Fry warned that the world’s reliance on digital systems might lead to “an extinction-level event and will obliterate our title deeds, eliminate our personal records, annul our bank accounts and life savings, delete all the archives and accumulated data of our existences and create a kind of digital winter for humankind.”
Fry also brought up the problem of live-streaming services like Facebook Live allowing people to broadcast acts of violence and self-harm, along with other digital big concerns.