19/03/2013 12:21 GMT | Updated 19/03/2013 12:21 GMT

Not Forgetting Online Abuse

Sometimes lost in the present debate regarding the right to be forgotten and the update of the EU data protection legal regime, is the need for solutions to the hotspots on the internet.

One of these internet hotspots is the issue of online abuse.

Clearly we as society, policymakers and website service providers need to consider how we can do more to ensure less people become victims of online abuse, commit suicide, have "bad internet experiences," are forced to move from school to school, home to home, and are even afraid to use the internet. The internet should be a safe, positive and enriching resource for all.

This internet hotspot problem, and indeed possibly all internet hotspot problems, will require a variety of solutions. In terms of some of these solutions, and the solutions which rest with the social networking and related websites, we need more research, more statistical transparency, independent assessment of the language and presentation of the positions advanced by such websites, and independent consideration of the evolving tools, processes and procedures being advanced to deal with online abuse.

This will assist best practice to evolve. It is also a necessary step to ensure that we know best practice when we get there.

Independent research and assessment as well as dialogue with social networking and related websites are all needed. Unfortunately, there are many gaps and areas not receiving attention as yet.

It is interesting to note the comments of Commissioner Vivian Reding, the EU Commissioner responsible for advancing the update of data protection law in Europe, when she recently criticised the unprecedented amount of corporate lobbying in relation to particular parts of the proposals in the new data protection regime. One of the main focuses of the lobbying relates to the (updated) right to be forgotten.

One could be forgiven for querying if the significant effort and expense on lobbying would be better devoted to dealing with the hotspot issues such as online abuse, and which may lead in time to lessening the requirement for the right to be forgotten in the first instance.

It also diverts from the many important issues regarding tools, takedowns, processes and procedures which are not yet receiving research attention. While it is clear that we are not yet at the stage of best practice as regards the tools, processes, etc. of social networking and related websites, it is also unclear (a) if what they are currently doing for victims of online abuse is reasonable; nor (b) whether they are being reasonable as regards what they are not (currently) doing.