CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: Lock up tech firm execs if they fail to stop this horrific online abuse

CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Lock up tech firm execs if they fail to stop this horrific online abuse

Emily Atack: Asking For It 

Rating: ** 

Great British Menu 

Rating: **** 

The solution seems quite simple. With countless women and girls being bombarded with obscene images on their smartphones, we need to prosecute the people doing it.

I don’t only mean the perverts who indulge in cyber-flashing. It’s the senior executives of social media companies who facilitate this abuse — they deserve punitive fines. And, if they still fail to halt the tide of filth, imprisonment, too.

Why not? They’re no different from the seedy proprietors of dodgy bookshops in Soho that used to be raided routinely by the police, their stock of pornographic magazines seized and pulped.

Actress Emily Atack, revealing the scale of the problem in a one-off documentary, Asking For It (BBC2), was rightly savage in her condemnation of the men who get their depraved kicks by sending vile sexual photographs.

Difficult: Emily Atack in her new one-off documentary on BBC2 called Asking For It

But she ignored the complicity of the online giants, who appear to regard themselves as above the law. With artificial intelligence software, it shouldn’t be a difficult problem to fix. The photo app on my phone is so sophisticated, it can recognise faces and accurately identify the people in family snapshots.

Surely it’s easy for social media technicians to filter out all obscene images and automatically close the accounts of the sexual deviants who post them — before forwarding their personal details to the police.

Emily, who says she wakes to dozens of these intimidating, upsetting images on her phone every day, didn’t address this. She also dismissed the common sense of an interviewee who suggested sexual assaults were fuelled by online porn.

Her argument wasn’t made any clearer by her reluctance to blacklist men who pelt her with offensive pictures. She could block their messages with one click, but rarely does. She claims that it might antagonise them, driving them to stalk her in person, or even break into her home and murder her.

Fixer-upper of the night: 

Young parents George and Sophie were mending a tumbledown 800-year-old farmhouse in the gorgeous mountains of Tuscany, on New Lives In The Wild (C5). Their nearest neighbour is an hour’s walk away. That really is getting away from it all.

That’s her choice. I think it’s a mistake, but she isn’t asking my advice. She was right to say that, even if she threw her own phone away, it wouldn’t help other women. At a London school, she met a group of 16-year-old girls who had all, without exception, received obscene photos from strangers.

According to Conservative MP Fay Jones, 48 per cent of Millennial women have been subjected to unsolicited lewd images on social media. She has pushed through a new law to make cyber-flashing a specific legal offence.

Emotional: The actress breaks down in her mother's arm during the documentary

Emotional: The actress breaks down in her mother’s arm during the documentary 

Emily skirted that, too. It’s the responsibility of pervy men to change their behaviour, she believes. I’m sure that will happen, the same week that social media companies start volunteering to pay all their taxes.

A more innocent era was evoked as Great British Menu (BBC2) returned, with professional chefs competing to celebrate classic children’s animation. One cook saluted Andy Capp, with a cloth cap like a tea cosy on his mushroom hotpot. Another made a sandwich with two slices of fish instead of bread. This was a nod to a story where Paddington goes fishing — though surely this strange sarnie should have had a marmalade filling.

As a lifelong Clangers fan, I’d love to try the Soup Dragon consomme with blue string pudding.

With nothing but prestige at stake, the competition is brisk but never cut-throat. Contestants help each other out when time is tight. And it was reassuring to see that, as one over-stressed chef poured his stock into the wrong pan, even a Michelin star isn’t proof against occasional kitchen catastrophes.


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