The nanny state

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There is a creeping trend in the UK of that much derided phenomena the nanny state; which has now moved online. If one looks at coverage of the current government from his election onwards once can see how the nanny state rhetoric changes from something to be derided, to expanding regulation further. Looking further back one sees a similar pattern emerging with previous administrations; a common pattern that spans the whole of the mainstream political spectrum. The nanny state is derided whilst in opposition and implemented when in power.

Whilst this is meant with the best of intent, the measures paint a picture of an immature society unwilling to take responsibility for its own actions. The latest measure is the much derided default content filter designed to curb some 8.5 per cent of current UK internet usage, to put that into perspective – it is more than Facebook.

Search engines are forced to censor content by court order under the Digital Economy Act and Twitter is about to be grilled in the autumn when politicians looking with one eye to gallery berate them for not stopping Twitter users from being horrible to each other.

The thing is; as great as people can be, they can also be horrific in terms of what they think, what they say and what they do.

Technology won’t change this, it is merely a mirror to society; if it is restricted it will be circumvented and worked around. Technology has it’s own momentum what the author Kevin Kelly called The Technium. As regulatory measures fail, more draconian measures will be demanded. Delegating responsibility to technology rather than the individual isn’t smart. It disenfranchises people from the role they should play as a member of society and it wastes time and money for businesses that should be fueling economic growth.

If you want behavioral change to happen it needs to happen at the societal level – that means hard work over time with people on shared values. Not fast, ill-thought out ideas pursued without consideration for the likely secondary consequences. Legislation and regulation are only effective if they match the values of the majority in the country and there seems to be chasm between policy and the general public.

Let’s take the nanny state rhetoric to its logical conclusion: if adults aren’t responsible enough to use the internet properly and parents can’t take responsibility for their children’s behaviour, at what point do we decide that not all adults should be allowed to vote as they don’t have sufficient moral substance – as judged by…?

So what does this mean for the PR industry? PROs we will face greater challenges:

  • Technology and media clients will need to be defended against the rapacious demands placed at their door by regulatory and policy makers looking to delegate society’s responsibilities on to their businesses
  • The freedom to influence is essential to the democratic process, yet lobbyists and PROs (or spin doctors as the tabloid media would say) make easy targets for political rhetoric on all sides
  • This creeping tide of demands will eventually impinge further on our freedom to communicate as demonstrated by the debate on lobbying
  • Developing behavioural change at the societal level is an opportunity for PR. One only has to look at the Prevent work that has been done to address both far right and religious extremism in the past through engaging disenfranchised communities; whilst contentious it recognised that regulation alone wasn’t enough

Archived from blog posts I wrote for PR Week