Is the law keeping up?
“The challenge is not so much whether the law’s kept up, but whether it's responding effectively. We don't want the law to be running too far ahead, because that usually means that regulators are making bets on technology that's still emerging – and they may not bet on the right technologies,” she says.
We need to work out whether we are regulating particular technologies or whether are trying to regulate for outcomes, Leiman says.
“What we see historically, is that when new tech arrives it does prompt new regulatory responses. The industrial revolution, for example, was the genesis of a whole lot of new types of legislation.
“We also have to think carefully about who the legislation is benefiting (and why!) – is it owners of the technology who seek to profit from it or the people who are likely to be adversely impacted by the technology.”
A greater problem is jurisdictional, with multinational giants such as Facebook and Google able to navigate around laws made in a single country,” she says.
“But I don't think that's a reason not to have some firm boundaries,” says Leiman. “Not every organisation is a big multinational and regulatory boundaries can be really important in guiding behaviour of smaller organisations.
“We need much greater public discussion so people can understand the implications of this. It’s really complex. The challenge is that any regulatory framework might ask people to give up something to ensure we can introduce some protections. So far, what we've seen is that people are generally voting in favour of convenience – and often without realising that’s what they are doing.”
Melissa de Zwart, Professor in Digital Technology, Security and Governance at JBC, while admitting it is not going to be easy, believes democracies need to band together to deal with the problem.
“I'm not suggesting that we necessarily need to have some kind of international treaty, but I think you should have a coordinated legislative response to require these companies to be more responsible about their content,” she says. “Regulation really needs to be directed towards altering their business model that currently encourages negative and destructive content.”
But will our legislators find the backbone to stand up against tech giants? Dr Kelton suggests that apart from ensuring we are fully informed of the short and long term costs, including that of convenience, maybe when legislators are directly affected, say by trolling or misinformation, it may spur them to address the issue, as recent defamation cases against Twitter users might suggest. Legislators and policy makers do have agency.
But in the end it may be individuals who drive the change.
“Most of us exist in families and many have young children,” says Kelton. “Once we recognise some of the problems these technologies are causing, particularly in terms of wellbeing or mental health, that might be quite motivating.”