A ‘new age of accountability’ for social media

• New rules to be introduced for tech firms that allow users to post their own content or
interact
• Firms failing to protect people face fines of up to ten per cent of turnover or the blocking of
their sites and the government will reserve the power for senior managers to be held
liable
• Popular platforms to be held responsible for tackling both legal and illegal harms
• All platforms will have a duty of care to protect children using their services
• Laws will not affect articles and comments sections on news websites, and there will be
additional measures to protect free speech

By Democrat reporter

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden and Home Secretary Priti Patel will today announce the government’s final decisions on new laws to make the UK a safer place to be online.

The full government response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation will set out how the proposed legal duty of care on online companies will work in practice and gives them new responsibilities towards their users.

The safety of children is at the heart of the measures.

Social media sites, websites, apps and other services which host user-generated content or allow people to talk to others online will need to remove and limit the spread of illegal content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material and suicide content.

The Government is also progressing work with the Law Commission on whether the promotion of self  arm should be made illegal.

Tech platforms will need to do far more to protect children from being exposed to harmful content or activity such as grooming, bullying and pornography.

This will help make sure future generations enjoy the full benefits of the internet with better protections  in place to reduce the risk of harm.

The most popular social media sites, with the largest audiences and high-risk features, will need to go further by setting and enforcing clear terms and conditions which explicitly state how they will handle content which is legal but could cause significant physical or psychological harm to adults.

This includes dangerous disinformation and misinformation about coronavirus vaccines, and will help bridge the gap between what companies say they do and what happens in practice.

Ofcom is now confirmed as the regulator with the power to fine companies failing in their duty of care up to £18 million or ten per cent of annual global turnover, whichever is higher. It will have the power to block non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK.

The legislation includes provisions to impose criminal sanctions on senior managers.

The  government will not hesitate to bring these powers into force should companies fail to take the  new  rules seriously – for example, if they do not respond fully, accurately and in a timely manner to
information requests from Ofcom

This power would be introduced by Parliament via secondary legislation, and reserving the power to compel compliance follows similar approaches in other sectors such as financial services regulation.

Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said:  ‘I’m unashamedly pro tech but that can’t mean a tech free-for-all. Today Britain is setting the global standard for safety online with the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation.

“We are entering a new age of accountability for tech to protect children and vulnerable users, to restore trust in this industry, and to enshrine in law safeguards for free speech.

“This proportionate new framework will ensure we don’t put unnecessary burdens on small businesses but give large digital businesses robust rules of the road to follow so we can seize the brilliance of modern technology to improve our lives.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “We are giving internet users the protection they deserve and are working with companies to tackle some of the abuses happening on the web. We will not allow child sexual abuse, terrorist material and other harmful content to fester on online platforms.

“Tech companies must put public safety first or face the consequences.”

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s Chief Executive, said: “We’re really pleased to take on this new role, which will build on our experience as a media regulator. Being online brings huge benefits, but four in five people have concerns about it.

“That shows the need for sensible, balanced rules that protect users from serious harm, but also recognise the great things about online, including free expression.

“We’re gearing up for the task by acquiring new technology and data skills, and we’ll work with Parliament as it finalises the plans.”

Top picture: The way we were … a newspaper office with reporters using typewriters.

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