Most of us enjoy the freedom and opportunities the internet brings. But many of us are also concerned about the drawbacks and potential dangers and want them to be sorted out so the internet can be a safe and productive space for us all.
Bullying, coercion and stealing are all against the law in the offline world. Some of this is partially covered in laws about the online world, but much of it is not.
I think it’s time we had consistent protection under the law, with rights we can all understand, for both on and offline activities.
For example, musicians and other creative people and people who work in Information Technology can be cheated out of money for their work if it is shared unofficially online. We feel like we own our personal photographs and data, but once uploaded, the internet platforms often make use of them without our fully informed consent. Our rights are usually hidden away in long complicated consent forms most of us haven’t read.
Persistent, threatening behaviour is unacceptable in the real world and if it causes fear or coercion most of us agree we should have protection from it, particularly for vulnerable people. However, online, anonymity means that many people feel OK to ditch these standards and be threatening or abusive to others in ways they would never use face to face.
I’m also concerned about websites promoting often misleading or false information about health. Sometimes this is clearly from an individual in the same way as they might at the bus-stop or at work. But other times it appears to be expert advice, which would not be allowed offline, without a recognised medical or research qualification.
The damaging consequences of this inconsistency between on and offline worlds can be financial, or damaging to mental or physical health, or they can make us feel unwelcome or unproductive on the internet. In some cases, this leads to real-world violence or fraud.
The internet provides wonderful opportunities to share information and debate ideas, disagree constructively and develop solutions to problems old and new. I want a sensible system which is open, transparent and fair, and which non-technical people (most of us!) can understand.
In Parliament, I’ve suggested that we adopt a default policy that any activity which would be covered by law or regulation offline, should be similarly covered online. I’d welcome any views, particularly if you have experience or expertise on this topic.