UK plans social media regulation to battle harmful content

Sajid Javid the Home Secretary is considering sanctions

Sajid Javid the Home Secretary is considering sanctions

Facebook logo is reflected in glasses in this picture illustration taken April 1, 2019.

The British government has announced new online safety proposals created to punish social media companies for failing to protect users from harmful content.

"Online companies must start taking responsibility for their platforms, and help restore public trust in this technology".

"The Internet can be brilliant at connecting people across the world - but for too long these companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from harmful content", May said in a statement.

Britain called for a first-of-its-kind watchdog for social media that could fine executives and even ban companies.

As concerns mount globally over how to monitor internet material without stifling free speech, the British proposal reflects a push by some countries - particularly in Europe but also Australia and New Zealand - to give regulators more power.

Social media and tech companies could be fined or blocked if they don't protect users from harmful content under a new British government proposal.

TechUK, an industry trade group, said the paper was a significant step forward, but one that needs to be firmed up during its 12-week consultation. Giving the government power to dictate what content is appropriate sets a unsafe precedent, Director General Mark Littlewood said.

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"That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently", May said in a statement.

Facebook said it was looking forward to working with the government to ensure new regulations were effective, repeating founder Mark Zuckerberg's line that regulations were needed to have a standard approach across platforms.

In response, Facebook highlighted its recent investments to better spot and remove harmful content, adding that the U.K.'s proposal "should protect society from harm while also supporting innovation, the digital economy and freedom of speech".

"We are consulting on powers to issue substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially to impose liability on individual members of senior management", the government said in its statement.

The aggressive plan - drafted by the United Kingdom's leading consumer-protection regulators and blessed by Prime Minister Theresa May - targets a wide array of online content, including child exploitation, false news, terrorist activity and extreme violence. "This is about an unregulated space that we need to control better to keep people safer".

"It is vital that our electoral law is brought up to date as soon as possible, so that social media users know who is contacting them with political messages and why", said Damian Collins, a Conservative MP who chairs the parliamentary committee for digital, culture, media and sport. Germany introduced similar legislation previous year, with a time frame of 24 hours to take down "obviously illegal" content, or face fines of up to €50 million.

Many details, such as how it defines harmful content, and how long companies have to take it down, have yet to be hammered out.

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