UK lays out plans to force social media firms to clean up harmful content

Social media appsThe UK government has put forward proposals for – what it has dubbed – ‘world first online safety laws’ that will regulate social media and tech firms in a bid to make the internet safer for everybody.

The Online Harms White Paper, which comes from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Home Office, aims to tackle issues surrounding inciting violence and violent content, encouraging suicide, disinformation, fake news, cyberbullying, and the access that children have to inappropriate material.

Under the proposals, an independent regulator will be introduced to police tech firms and make sure they meet the responsibilities laid out for them in the new laws. These responsibilities will include a mandatory ‘duty of care’, which means tech companies will have take ‘reasonable steps’ in order to keep their users safe and rid their platforms of illegal and harmful content.

The government is consulting on whether the regulator should be a new or an existing body and is exploring the idea of placing a tax on tech firms to help fund the regulator.

What we do know for sure is that the regulator will be able to hand out fines to any platforms that enable users to share and discover user generated content or interact with each other online, including social media platforms, file hosting sites, public discussion forums, messaging services, and search engines.  

Furthermore, the regulator will have the power to force platforms to publish annual transparency reports about harmful content.

Other proposals include making companies respond to user complaints more quickly, the introduction of codes of practice, the launch of a framework to help companies build safety features in their apps and platforms from the start, and a media literacy strategy to help people recognise and deal with deceptive and malicious behaviours online.

“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,” said UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

“That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently. We have listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe.

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