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MPs report back from internet's dark side

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MPs have called on the government to install a YouTube Czar to oversee user-generated content sites and better labels for video games.

The Committee of Culture, Media and Sport, in its report Harmful Content on the Internet and in Video Games, said it was unconvinced by claims from sites like YouTube that they could not check on uploaded content: "We recommend that proactive review of content should be standard practice for sites hosting user-generated content." The report said: "Even if review of every bit of content is not practical, that is not an argument to undertake none at all."

MPs called for the terms and conditions of such websites to be more prominently displayed and for direct links for reporting abuses to police and support organisations. The report said: "We are also concerned that user-generated video content on sites such as YouTube does not carry any age classification, nor is there a watershed before which it cannot be viewed."

The politicians accepted that self-regulation has had a beneficial effect but were concerned at "a lack of consistency and transparency of practice, and the public needs the assurance that certain basic standards will be met". The committee proposed tighter self-regulation, "under which the industry would speedily establish a self-regulatory body to draw up agreed minimum standards based upon the recommendations of the UK Council for Child Internet Safety, monitor their effectiveness, publish performance statistics, and adjudicate on complaints".

The committee even suggests that this body might also regulate online piracy, peer-to-peer services and Phorm-type advertising.

It called for industry standards to be set for take-down times. MPs commended Microsoft for providing a direct link to the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre from within Windows Live Messenger and for putting parental controls into the X-box.

On video games the committee seems to add another level of confusion. There are two systems for labelling video games - one backed by the games industry across Europe called PEGI and one created by the British Board of Film Classification which the committee supports. This is at odds with the findings of Dr Tanya Byron, who recomended a blending of the two systems.

The report summary notes, apparently without irony, that "several Government departments have an interest in this field, and it does seem that there is scope for improved co-ordination of activity between them".

The talking shop also called for the UK council for Child Internet Safety to discuss with the Ministry of Justice whether the law on assisted suicide laws were strong enough and to take action to block sites which encourage suicide.

The report is available here. ®

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