Social technology

When I was at school in the 1970s we hadn’t heard of the internet, personal computers were just being invented and it would be another two decades before the World Wide Web would be designed (by a British inventor, Sir Tim Berners Lee).  The nearest we got to high technology was when we all gathered around a single television to watch a VHS video.  We thought it was revolutionary.

Things had not changed much more by the new millennium.  I recall that as a parliamentary candidate in the 1997 general election (the year of Tony Blair’s landslide victory), I was receiving daily briefings by fax.  E-mail was in its infancy.

The technological transformation over the following two decades to a world of e-mail, smartphones and social media has been astonishing.  In 1996 only 16 percent of households owned a mobile phone.  By last year the proportion was 95 per cent.

Our lives have literally been changed by this revolution which in so many ways has been beneficial.  As I Skyped a work colleague in Canada on Monday, and we talked as though in the same room together, I thought about how difficult it would have been to have held this meeting just a few years ago.

Yet the change has brought with it problems.  It’s not just that meals are interrupted as people refuse to put down their phones, or that hours are wasted online.  Social media can be antisocial - and worse.  Over the summer I met my constituent Katie Price again to discuss the progress of her campaign against online bullying of children.

We are pressing for tougher measures to pursue online bullies and a parliamentary debate on the issue.

This week the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, demanded that the technology giants do more to tackle child sexual exploitation.  He revealed that  80,000 people in the UK alone present some kind of sexual threat to children online. Referrals to the National Crime Agency relating to online child sexual exploitation have increased 700 per cent in just five years.

By definition the web has no national boundaries.  Less than 1 per cent of child sexual abuse content is now hosted on UK platforms.  So effective action needs to be multinational.

We can’t allow an online free-for-all which harms children and vulnerable people.