UK to fine social media companies for harmful content


The United Kingdom’s Office of Communications will be empowered to levy fines against social media companies that do not take steps to remove harmful content from their platforms.

An announcement Wednesday from the Digital and Home secretaries stated that the agency will be granted the power to “hold companies to account if they do not tackle internet harms such as child sexual exploitation and abuse and terrorism.”

“Platforms will need to ensure that illegal content is removed quickly and minimise the risk of it appearing, with particularly robust action on terrorist content and online child sexual abuse,” read the announcement.

The content regulations hinge not on content that is banned under U.K. law, according to the announcement, but rather on forcing companies to strictly follow their own stated guidelines for content moderation.

“To protect freedom of expression, the regulations will not stop adults from accessing or posting legal content that some may find offensive. Instead, companies will be required to explicitly state what content and behaviour is acceptable on their sites in clear and accessible terms and conditions and enforce these effectively, consistently and transparently,” the statement reads.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement accompanying the announcement that it was incumbent upon tech companies to police illegal content on their platforms.

“While the internet can be used to connect people and drive innovation, we know it can also be a hiding place for criminals, including paedophiles, to cause immense harm,” Patel said. “It is incumbent on tech firms to balance issues of privacy and technological advances with child protection.”

A spokesperson for Facebook indicated that the regulation was a welcome change, while a spokesperson for Twitter did not immediately return a request for comment.

“Facebook has long called for new regulations to set high standards across the internet,” Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s U.K. public policy lead, told The Associated Press. “New rules are needed so that we have a more common approach across platforms and companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone.”

“Internet companies are committed to working with government to achieve our shared goals of keeping people safe online and ensuring that the internet continues to deliver benefits to the economy and society,” added a spokesman for Internet Association (IA), a U.S.-based lobbying group representing major tech companies.

“We will continue our constructive engagement on the issues of concern that are still under review – for example the scope of regulation, treatment of legal but potentially harmful content, and enforcement powers – and look forward to the full consultation response in the spring. These are complex topics, and it is essential that we find a solution that both enhances digital safety and fosters a thriving internet economy,” added the IA spokesman.

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