Insights Michael Baker

Zero tolerance

This week: internet giants respond to claims of inaction in tackling online child abuse – Dame Tessa Jowell inspires – Jurassic Park Lane 

Re-playing corporate responses and injecting a more human approach

England and Wales’s top cop for child protection told ITV News this week that social media companies and internet giants were “absolutely” enabling the grooming of children online.  Chief Constable Simon Bailey said that “not enough is being done to make chatrooms safe places for our children to go to” or “to take down indecent imagery”.

Industry response? ITV News said in its broadcast bulletin that all the internet firms they contacted said they have “zero tolerance for child exploitation” and that “the safety of users is their top priority”.

Impact? In the context of the news piece, which included reports that one police force has seen a 700% rise in online child abuse in the past four years,  talking about a “zero tolerance” approach rang hollow.  It’s also untrue, because if it were the case, companies would take drastic steps to ensure no-one could possibly ever use their platforms in this way. The redundant and over-used language suggested a deafness to the issue. The irony being that companies which connect people in new ways used language and a communications approach in this context which screamed remoteness.

What could have been different? Could we have heard the voices of some of the parents who work in the industry?  An alternative approach might have seen ITV News run an interview with a talking head from one of the firms who made it personal.  They could have talked about what they find challenging as a family around web security before putting that in a corporate context, the action their company is taking and changes users can expect to see.

It’s open season on the internet giants and when the request came, each company may well have taken the view that they didn’t want their own firm tied to a repugnant issue and asked to respond to a sector-wide problem.  Yet someone needed to speak for the sector and although ITV News didn’t mention any companies by name in the bulletin, viewers will have filled in the blanks for themselves.

Who made an emotional connection this week? Dame Tessa Jowell.

The Labour peer and Minister behind the UK’s successful bid to host the Olympics in 2012, Dame Tessa Jowell, led a debate in a packed House of Lords and gave a deeply personal interview on BBC Radio 4 about her campaign calling for new approaches to cancer treatment trials as she battles a rare form of the disease.  Dame Tessa spoke movingly of her hopes and fears, her sense of purpose and what she wants to achieve, saying that it would be impossible for her to retreat to the sofa on the back of her diagnosis.

Jurassic Park Lane

The Presidents Club scandal heaped further condemnation on the world of business this week, compounding the acrimony surrounding Carillion’s collapse the week before. Not since the financial crisis has support for enterprise felt so fragile.  Amid this uncertainty, it’s the political left making the running in shaping the future of business, with calls for greater regulation and nationalisation.  If business dislikes the thought of old style dirigisme coming down the track, it must surely acknowledge that urgent change is necessary.  The alternative is being consigned to history, much like the dinosaurs they appear to be.

Related: Carillion’s collapse reveals need for new pact between government, business and public.