Updated: Jan 11, 2022
15 November 2018
The Duke of Cambridge accused social media firms of not being proactive enough about dealing with fake news, privacy issues & cyber-bullying.
In a speech given at the BBC, Prince William said social networks had allowed "misinformation & conspiracy to pollute the public sphere".
"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," he said.
The prince & the Duchess of Cambridge had been invited to the BBC to try out a new internet safety app.
During their visit, the royal couple met children & their parents who had helped design it.
"The tools that we use to congratulate each other on milestones & successes can also be used to normalise speech that is filled with bile & hate. The websites we use to stay connected can for some create profound feelings of loneliness & inadequacy," said the Prince in his speech.
The prince said tech firms had a "great deal to learn" on responsibility.
"Social media companies have done more to connect the world than has ever been achieved in human history. Surely you can connect with each other about smart ways to deal with the unintended consequences of these connections," he said.
"You can reject the false choice of profits over values. You can choose to do good & be successful."
This is not the first time The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge have spoken out about cyber-bullying.
They launched a taskforce to tackle the problem in June 2016, which involved Facebook, Snapchat & Google among others.
The BBC is a member of an industry-wide taskforce set up by the prince to tackle cyber-bullying.
After being greeted by excited crowds outside the BBC studios in central London, the royal couple were pictured with BBC director general Tony Hall & the director of BBC Children's, Alice Webb.
During Thursday's brief visit, the couple also met young people who wrote & performed a new video for a campaign run by the Prince's cyber-bullying taskforce.
The campaign, called "Stop, Speak, Support", involves a national code of conduct for children on what to do if they come across bullying online.
Thank you, Sarah. I want to start by thanking Alice Webb & her team at the BBC for their amazing work so far in developing the Own It app.
You are creating a practical, powerful tool to help children use their smartphones & social media with confidence & with safety. I am so proud that this has sprung out of the Cyberbullying Taskforce work. So thank you, Alice, & the BBC for stepping up. It’s now important that our technology partners get right behind the app to make sure all children can benefit. We’re counting on all of you.
I’d also like to thank all of our partners on the taskforce – the tech companies, the ISPs, the charities, & the academic experts. The expanded Stop, Speak, Support, campaign which is now rolling out to schools across the country is just one of the things that we should be celebrating. I am so grateful to you all for the time, expertise, & resources you have contributed. It hasn’t been easy, but I believe our attempt to work collaboratively has been instructive for the rest of the world.
Now, we launched our commitments one year ago. And when we did, I told the taskforce members that I would be honest in assessing what we achieved and what we did not. And that’s what I’m going to do today.
To explain where I think we have got to, I want to begin by taking a step back to the early days of social media.
Over a decade ago, when social media first became a standard part of daily life, there was so much justifiable reason for optimism.
Some of this was about personal excitement.
That friend we lost touch with was suddenly back in our lives.
The grandparent living far away was now able to keep up with the day-to-day life of the family they cared so much about.
The fun we had at parties, the victories we celebrated on the football pitch, the cake we ate at our child’s birthday – all of it was captured, posted & shared with our friends, making us feel closer to each other even when we were apart.
And some of it was about the very nature of our society & culture.
Our politics appeared more direct & more transparent.
The physical distance between nations & people seemed less important
New ways to discover & discuss music, film, and books were appearing all the time.
The men & women who invented and developed social media platforms are justifiably proud of the difference they have made in the world. They have achieved extraordinary things & created connections across borders, generations, & cultural divides that were unimaginable at the turn of the century.
I believe we are stronger when we are connected & more successful when we can understand each other’s experiences.
We all have to acknowledge, though, that much of the early optimism & hope of social media is giving way to very real concern, & even fear about its impact on our lives.
We have seen that the technology that can allow you to develop an online community around a shared hobby or interest can also be used to organise violence.
The platform that can allow you to celebrate diversity can also be used to cocoon yourself in a cultural & political echo chamber.
The new ways we have to access news from across the world are also allowing misinformation & conspiracy to pollute the public sphere.
The tools that we use to congratulate each other on milestones & successes can also be used to normalise speech that is filled with bile & hate.
The websites we use to stay connected can for some create profound feelings of loneliness & inadequacy.
And the apps we use to make new friends, can also allow bullies to follow their targets even after they have left the classroom or the playing field.
It is this issue of cyberbullying that we have come here to discuss today. As we do, however, I believe it is crucial that we see the connections across all of these challenges.
Over the last few years working with the Cyberbullying Taskforce, it has become clear to me that the men & women who lead social media companies are motivated by the right things – the value of connection, friendship, family, & knowledge. But as this list of unintended consequences grows, a culture of defensiveness is undermining the sector’s relationship with the public.
To explain what I mean, it’s important to share my experience.
I convened the Cyberbullying Taskforce not because I had any expertise in technology policy – I do not & I have never pretended to.
I convened the Taskforce because I was a new parent. And I saw that my friends & peers were seriously worried about the risks of the very powerful tools we were putting in our children’s hands. For too many families, phones and social media shattered the sanctity & protection of the home.
As we grappled with this we felt a distinct absence of guidance.
Should we read our children’s messages?
Should we allow them to have phones and tablets in their rooms?
Who do we report bullying to?
We were making up the rules as we went along.
And when I worked as an Air Ambulance pilot or travelled around the country campaigning on mental health, I met families who had suffered the ultimate loss. For too many, social media & messaging was supercharging the age-old problem of bullying, leaving some children to take their own lives when they felt it was unescapable.
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 & researchers in social media to sit around the table, to listen to parents & children, and see what we might do together to make the online world safer & happier for our young people.
What I found very quickly though was that the sector did not want to own this issue.
I heard doubts being cast about the scale of the problem.
I was told that companies were already doing plenty & just needed more credit for it.
I saw denials about the age of young children on some of our most popular platforms.
And crucially I heard over & over again that a collective approach – across the industry, with charity partners, ISPs, researchers, & parents – just wouldn’t work. The individual platforms were just too different & user expectations too complicated to try to come up with common tools that could be easily understood by children, parents & teachers.
So a year ago, when it came time to launch a series of commitments that the sector would make on this issue, I announced a plan of action that I freely admitted did not go as far as I hoped.
Now it did include some very positive things – a joint awareness campaign, new guidelines for reporting bullying, & a pilot for a shared emotional support platform. A year on though, even those modest commitments have not been implemented with the enthusiasm I would have hoped for.
And while I am grateful that today we are announcing that the emotional support platform & the Stop, Speak, Support campaign will get fresh energy, I am disappointed that we are ending our taskforce collaboration without a real, collective sense of pride about what we have achieved.
Now I will admit I have learned plenty through this process about how I can best lead similar endeavours in the future. I underestimated the scale of the challenge that this process would represent. I may have been too ambitious & I may have needed to look again at who we brought to the table.
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 & societies.
I am very concerned though that on every challenge they face – fake news, extremism, polarisation, hate speech, trolling, mental health, privacy, & 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 that they are creating.
The journey from inventors in the student dormitory to the leaders of some of the most valuable companies on earth has been so fast that they may struggle to understand that their incentives have changed. The noise of shareholders, bottom lines, & 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.
And increasingly they seemed resigned to a posture with governments & regulators that will be defined by conflict and discord.
It does not have to be this way.
Social media companies have done more to connect the world than has ever been achieved in human history. Surely you can connect with each other about smart ways to deal with the unintended consequences of these connections.
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, & education for their children.
You can reject the false choice of profits over values. You can choose to do good & be successful.
You can work in the interest of the children & parents who use your products and still make your shareholders happy.
We not only want you to succeed. We need you to.
The Anti-bullying alliance
Child-friendly apps your children will enjoy.