Governments, after years of indulgence, are rightly getting tough on social media sites

The key question to ask when a shocking tragedy comes to light is this: does it signify a scandal or a crisis? Scandals happen all the time in societies. They generate a lot of heat, outrage and public angst. But, eventually, the media caravan moves on and nothing much changes.

When in 2011, for example, the Guardian printed shocking revelations of tabloid phone-hacking and, particularly, the news that reporters had hacked the mobile phone of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler, many observers concluded that this indicated a crisis for the British newspaper industry. Initially, the signs were promising: solemn statement by the prime minister, ubiquitous shock-horror-outrage, closure of a big newspaper, a judicial inquiry – all the trappings of a democracy embarking on radical reform. But in the end, nothing much changed. British tabloids are as intrusive and crass as ever. And the industry remains “self-regulated”. It was just another scandal, after all.

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