London Mayor: Tech companies aren’t above the law
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, kicked off his SXSW 2018 keynote with some jokes that sparked a deafening laugh and applause from the audience. He first talked about how he was shocked by the amount of hipsters here in Austin, Texas, followed by a comment that he’s excited to be on almost the same time zone as President Donald Trump. Just in case Number 45 decides to feud with him on Twitter. But Khan didn’t come to SXSW for his comedy, though his sense of humor was certainly appreciated by those in attendance. Once he got to his real message, London’s mayor mainly focused on discussing the impact of social media and technology as a whole on the world.
Khan called out Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for not doing enough to prevent the spread of fake news, hate speech, harassment and propaganda on their platforms. He leaned on his own experience, reading out abusive tweets he had received, and said that, with all the skills and resources these companies have at their disposal, they should be doing more to address the problems that make them toxic.
“Ultimately, there must be greater responsibility taken by some tech companies for the impact they’re having on the world,” Khan said. He added that he appreciates the way sites like Facebook and Twitter can connect users with loved ones and other like-minded people, but that it’s also important to not lose sight of how they’re being used to divide communities all across the globe.
He added that if Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others don’t take this issue seriously, they could set themselves up to be regulated by governments everywhere. Khan pointed to a law Germany passed last year, which allows the country to fine social networks up to €50 million (around $62 million) if they fail to remove abusive posts within 24 hours. Khan said he hopes it doesn’t come to that, though, as he believes those type of laws hamper free speech rights.
After his keynote, Khan sat down with Huffington Post Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen and said one of the reasons that Uber has faced issues in London is because the company doesn’t want to respect the transportation laws in place. Khan said that Uber thinks that since it’s an app, it should be allowed to operate differently than other Transport for London entities. That said, he mentioned that Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi seems to be more open to working out the problems with the city — which wasn’t the case with the ousted Travis Kalanick.
“Crucially, no business or industry should ever consider itself above the local rules, or laws set by democratic processes,” Khan said. At the same time, though, he believes that governments shouldn’t slow down innovation. “How we deal [with this],” he said, “will be a defining challenge of the 21st century.”
Catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2018 right here.