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Monday, April 08, 2019

Government considers forcing social media companies to protect users

The Independent reports on a new government white paper, which proposes that social media companies including Facebook and Twitter will be legally required to protect their users, including plans to introduce a regulator.

They say that the long-awaited government proposal, which would also see bosses of companies personally liable for harmful content on their platform, will ensure internet firms meet their responsibilities, which will be outlined by a mandatory duty of care.

They propose that the regulator will have the power to issue “substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially impose liability on individual members of senior management”.

These proposed measures come amid concerns about the growth of violent content, disinformation and inappropriate material online.

In March, the father of Molly Russell urged the government to introduce regulation on social media platforms in response to the suicide of his 14-year-old daughter, who was found to have viewed content related to depression and suicide on Instagram before her death:

The proposed new laws will apply to any company that allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online, the government said.

The regulation will be applicable to companies of all sizes – from social media platforms to file hosting sites, forum, messaging services and search engines.

The proposal also calls for powers to force internet firms to publish annual transparency reports about the harmful content on their platforms and how they are addressing it.

Companies including Facebook and Twitter already publish reports of this nature.

Getting the balance right here is going to be particularly important. The former culture secretary, John Whittingdale fears that the plans would send the wrong message to other countries, such as China, Russia and North Korea which censor their people. He does not want a UK regulator to give the despots an excuse to claim that they are simply following an example set by Britain.

Daniel Dyball, UK executive director at the Internet Association, has criticised the current scope of the proposals for being “extremely wide”, which could hinder their implementation. He wants to ensure that any laws do not restrict freedom of speech.

No doubt all these issues will be aired and decided upon as any legislation progresses through Parliament. If MPs can manage to protect vulnerable people while protecting people's freedom of speech then they will have nailed it.
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