The Duke of Cambridge has today (Thursday 14 Nov) during Anti-Bullying Week implored tech giants to partner with parents to make the online world a safe place for children.
In his speech on social Media and cyberbullying, from BBC Broadcasting House, London, he thanked all partners involved in the Cyberbullying Taskforce – including tech companies, ISPs, charities, and academic experts and said that the expanded Stop, Speak, Support, campaign – which is now rolling out to schools – should be celebrated.
Praising the men and women who invented and developed social media platforms, he said that they should be justifiably proud of the difference they have made in the world by creating connections across borders, generations, and cultural divides that were unimaginable at the turn of the century. He also added that he had convened the Cyberbullying Taskforce because he was a new parent, and saw that friends and peers were worried about the risks of the very powerful tools we were putting in children’s hands.
However he then said: “For too many families, phones and social media shattered the sanctity and protection of the home,” and went on to reveal that when he worked as an Air Ambulance pilot or travelled around the country campaigning on mental health, he met families who had suffered the ultimate loss. For too many, social media and messaging was supercharging the age-old problem of bullying, leaving some children to take their own lives when they felt it was unescapable.
Adding, “I felt that I might be able to make a difference on this issue. I did not have the answers, but I did have the ability to invite the brightest leaders and researchers in social media to sit around the table together, listen to parents and children, and see what we might do together to make the online world safer and happier for our young people. What I found very quickly though was that the sector did not want to own this issue.
“A year ago, I announced a plan of action that I freely admitted did not go as far as I hoped. I underestimated the scale of the challenge that this process would represent. I am worried though that our technology companies still have a great deal to learn about the responsibilities that come with their significant power.
“I say this not in anger. Again, I believe that our tech leaders are people of integrity who are bringing many benefits to our lives and societies. I am very concerned though that on every challenge they face – fake news, extremism, polarisation, hate speech, trolling, mental health, privacy, and bullying – our tech leaders seem to be on the back foot. Their self-image is so grounded in their positive power for good that they seem unable to engage in constructive discussion about the social problems they are creating. The noise of shareholders, bottom lines, and profits is distracting them from the values that made them so successful in the first place. They are so proud of what they have built that they cannot hear the growing concern from their users.”
In his final appeal for significant change to tech industry leaders The Duke said: “You have made so many of our institutions engage directly with the people they serve. Surely you can build a new relationship with your own users that is based on service, community, humility and transparency.
“You have powered amazing movements of social change. Surely together you can harness innovation to allow us to fight back against the intolerance and cruelty that has been brought to the surface by your platforms. And you have brought families together in ways that were previously unimaginable. Surely you can partner with parents to make the online world a safe place of discovery, friendship, and education for their children.
“You can reject the false choice of profits over values. You can choose to do good and be successful. You can work in the interest of the children and parents who use your products and still make your shareholders happy. We not only want you to succeed. We need you to.”