UK cracks down on social media with fines over 'online harms'

08/04/2019

Social media firms will be legally required to protect users, with bosses potentially held personally liable if they do not comply, under new UK government plans.

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The plans form part government drive and to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online.

The move follows concerns over the growth of violent content, encouraging suicide, disinformation and the exposure of children to cyber bullying and other inappropriate material.

The proposals on ‘online harms’, drawn up by the Home Office and Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, say a regulator will be appointed to ensure companies meet their responsibilities.

These will be laid out in a new mandatory duty of care, which will require firms to take more responsibility for the safety of users and be more proactive in tackling the harm caused on their platforms.

The regulator - either a new body or an existing one like Ofcom - will have the ability to hit companies with "substantial" fines, block access to their sites and "potentially impose liability on individual member of senior management".

The Online Harms White Paper is a joint proposal from the DCMS and the Home Office. A public consultation on the plans will run for 12 weeks.

The paper suggests:

  • establishing an independent regulator that can write a "code of practice" for social networks and internet companies

  • giving the regulator enforcement powers including the ability to fine companies that break the rules

  • considering additional enforcement powers such as the ability to fine company executives and force internet service providers to block sites that break the rules
  • Outlining the proposals, Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright said: "The era of self-regulation for online companies is over.

    "Voluntary actions from industry to tackle online harms have not been applied consistently or gone far enough."

    The plans call for an independent regulator to hold internet companies to account.

    It would be funded by the tech industry. The government has not decided whether a new body will be established, or an existing one handed new powers.

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