- Mayor Sadiq Khan will rip into Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Uber for their role in the rise of fake news, online abuse, and regulatory arbitrage.
- Khan will speak at the SXSW tech conference in Texas, where he will also criticise the government for not updating laws fast enough to keep up companies trying to take advantage of legal loopholes.
- Khan is expected to acknowledge the huge amount of racist abuse he receives on Twitter to highlight social media’s problem with hate speech.
- Khan presides over the most successful tech hub in Europe, so he can’t afford to alienate tech companies entirely.
London mayor Sadiq Khan will attack Google, Facebook, and Twitter for not doing enough to delete hate speech and abuse from their platforms in a wide-ranging speech on tech and inclusivity on Sunday.
Khan’s speech, due to take place at the SXSW tech conference in Texas, will also criticise Uber and its peers in the “gig economy” for circumventing laws around worker rights and pay.
He is expected to say: “Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have brought huge benefits to society. They’ve made it easier for us to stay in touch with those we love, meet like-minded people and have easier access to information we want.
But — understandably — there are growing concerns about the way some of the biggest companies on the planet are impacting our lives and the overall wellbeing of our societies. In some cases, these new platforms have been used to exacerbate, fuel and deepen the divisions within our communities.”
Khan will highlight the problems of fake news, algorithm bias, election interference, and the rise of online abuse.
He will say that Facebook, Twitter, and Google can remove offensive content and misinformation faster. If they don’t, they must face government-imposed fines.
“[More] countries will start to follow or go further than what Germany has done,” he is expected to say. “The German government have changed the law so that social media companies face hefty fines if they fail to quickly remove hate speech, fake news and illegal material.”
Germany began enforcing a new in January that gives social media firms just 24 hours to decide if something is hate speech. German police are already investigating far-right politician Beatrix von Storch after she described Muslims as “barbarians” on Facebook and Twitter.
Khan will reference London’s continuing battle with ride-sharing service Uber, which lost its licence in September 2017 over a number of regulatory problems. The company is still operational in the city while it fights a legal battle with London’s transport regulator.
Khan will say: “In London, we’ve been clear with Uber and other companies that everyone — no matter how big or small — must play by the rules. No exceptions.”
Sadiq Khan can’t afford to alienate one of the UK’s most important sectors
Not everything is about blame. Khan will acknowledge that the UK government had sat on its hands while services like Uber and Airbnb rewrote the rulebook around issues such as the minimum wage, employee status, and local planning.
He will say: “Rather than blaming companies for innovating ahead of regulation, politicians must fix things when the regulation is out-of-date. The question now for governments — or traditional sectors — should not be how we slow down innovation in its tracks — because we can’t. And we shouldn’t. It should be how we mitigate against the potentially negative impacts of disruption. And – more than that – how we can harness the very same technologies to drive up standards and to create more just and equal societies.”
Khan must tread carefully when it comes to creating anti-tech sentiment.
Another gig economy company, food delivery startup Deliveroo, is one of the UK’s best-known startups and has attracted almost $1 billion (£715 million) in funding. And British AI startup DeepMind was acquired by one of the major firms being criticised by Khan: Google.
UK tech startups attract more venture capital funding than any other country in Europe, and most of that money flows to London. The threat of stricter regulation, as well as Brexit, may threaten London’s status as the European tech capital.