Leader comment: The Internet needs urgent regulation

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If anyone still harboured the slightest doubt about the need for tighter regulation of the internet, the live-streaming of the murders of Muslim worshippers in New Zealand on Friday surely removed it.

The worldwide web may have brought people together, it may have made the sharing of ideas and information easier than ever, and it may be here to stay but we should never simply accept the bad that comes with the good the net brings. Even as social media companies deleted footage of the horrific scenes in Christchurch, internet users uploaded it again. Anyone browsing popular websites would have had no difficulty tracking down the graphic video stream showing the cold-blooded killings.

We understand it is not easy for internet companies to comprehensively police their platforms but that is no reason not to require them to do so. When sites like Twitter and Facebook are used to share distressing images and footage, they must be held to account. And so we support MPs on the cross-party group on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing who have called for internet platforms to adhere to a statutory code of conduct.

Members of the parliamentary group say addiction to social media should be classified as a disease and that tougher regulations are needed to protect children from firms operating in an “online Wild West”. The move comes after MSPs urged the Scottish Government to commission research into whether use of these internet platforms was linked to “significant increases” in the numbers of children and teenagers suffering mental health problems.

It is true each generation of parents finds a new innovation about which to be concerned. Whether it was the birth of rock “n” roll in the 1950s, the rise of the home computer game console in the 1970s or the explosion in violent movies during the 1980s, the “next big thing” has always prompted fears about its impact on impressionable young people.

Often, these concerns have been unfounded, fuelled by ignorance rather than information. But when it comes to the material available online - from violent pornography, to live footage of the murders of Muslim worshippers - fears about the impact on consumers are entirely justified.

We need new rules - in the shape both of laws and a code of conduct - to regulate the internet and we need them now.