Opinion: The internet is growing up

Stephen Waddington
Stephen Waddington

Internet publishers are going above and beyond the law to protect consumers from indecency and defamation.

The internet is levelling the playing field between consumers and organisations but only if you act within the limits of media law.

Media law protects citizens from indecency and defamation by publishers.

Anyone that creates a message or notice and posts in a public place is a publisher, and is subject to the media law, at least in England and Wales.

The internet has increased the number of public places where information can be shared, and increased the opportunity for people to see it.

If I stream a photo of my village noticeboard in Holystone using Facebook’s new video service, it has the potential to reach a worldwide audience via the new Facebook Live service.

We share stories via blogs, social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, and in the comments beneath articles on newspaper websites such as the Northumberland Gazette.

The internet has flattened communication and created a form of anarchy in communication.

Everyone has access to the tools of a broadcaster, journalist, lobbyist, presenter, publisher and spokesperson.

If the comments are topical, interesting or outrageous enough, they’ll attract and engage an audience.

Conversations and debates that once took place in public spaces are spilling onto the internet. The US election and European referendum are both topical examples.

Internet publishers typically provide an additional level of protection beyond media law through moderation.

A community manager will act as a guardian and police conversations, removing anything that breaches the terms of the community.

Self-censorship and rebuttal is increasingly common when an individual recognises that they’ve got something wrong.

Social media platforms go further. They invite users to unfollow and report comments they find offensive, for example, there’s a button on every single post of Facebook.

In cases of serious breaches all the main social networks have trust and confidence teams whose purpose is to investigate serious cases of indecency or defamation.

The internet is growing up.

Stephen Waddington, a PR and social-media expert who lives in Northumberland, is a partner and chief engagement officer at Ketchum, and visiting professor in practice, at Newcastle University.