An afternoon with OFCOM

In August I was invited to visit the Office of Communications (OFCOM) Southwark Bridge Road headquarters beside the Thames, to give a talk as part of Inside OFCOM – a series that has been presented at by such notable figures as Tim Wu, Vint Cerf, and Robert Peston, to name but a few! My remit was essentially an introductory talk about the online behaviour known as trolling. In the talk, we covered six major areas:

  • Definitions: given its rapidly changing nature, what does this word, “trolling” actually mean?
  • Facilitators, motives/triggers: what makes people feel like they can get away with this kind of behaviour? And what encourages them into behaving this way?
  • Strategies, logistics, networks: how is trolling carried out? What networks do individuals who troll form?
  • Self-protection: how do individuals who want to “misbehave” online go about protecting themselves from the consequences of that behaviour?
  • Legislation, policy: what legislation and policy currently exists that deals with this behaviour, and how useful, up-to-date, and comprehensive is it?
  • Ways forwards: what are the long-term, future ways of dealing with this behaviour?

The question-and-answer session after talk presented an excellent opportunity to discuss the current issues in managing online behaviour. It was especially helpful to be able to talk these aspects over with individuals and specialists actively working across a range of communicative environments (e.g. television, press, etc.) and who may, in the future, be called on to work with online communication too. In particular, there was a great moment of relief (for me!) when asked about the shortfall between media reportage of trolling, which tends to focus on only the most extreme, clear-cut cases, and the actual majority of real-world cases which tend not to be so clear cut. For instance, one issue that OFCOM itself regularly deals with is that hugely difficult grey area between freedom of expression and responsibility of expression, such as in extremely provocative press articles that cause widespread offence, and this exactly mirrors the same concerns found in regulating (or not) online interaction.

Overall, I look forward with great interest to the governmental developments in how to manage this particular area, and would like to extend my sincerest thanks to OFCOM for inviting me and being especially warm and welcoming hosts.

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