Self-regulation era 'over'

Internet platforms face crackdown over ‘online harms’

Sajid Javid 2Internet companies, including social media platforms, are facing potential fines under a crackdown on “online harms” such as terrorist propaganda and child abuse.

Joint proposals from the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will require firms to take more responsibility for the safety of users and tackle the harm caused by content or activity on their platforms.

The government has signalled that self-regulation is not working and that a tougher approach is required to tackle the negative impact of social platforms. A regulator will have the power to issue “substantial fines, block access to sites and potentially impose liability on individual members of senior management”, the proposal says. The government is currently consulting on whether to create a new regulator or use an existing one, such as Ofcom, to enforce the new rules.

They will apply to any company that allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online, the government said. They will be applicable to companies of all sizes from social media platforms to file hosting sites, forum, messaging services and search engines. Internet companies may be forced to publish annual transparency reports on the harmful content on their platforms and how they are addressing it.

Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, pictured, said tech firms had a “moral duty” to protect the young people they “profit from”. He said: “Despite our repeated calls to action, harmful and illegal content, including child abuse and terrorism, is still too readily available online. That is why we are forcing these firms to clean up their act once and for all.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the proposals were a sign that the age of self-regulation for internet companies was over. She said: “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.

“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.”

Paul Masterton, the East Renfrewshire Conservative MP who has campaigned for a duty of care for internet companies since the suicide of a teenage constituent targeted by online bullies, said the measures “have the potential to make a huge difference”.

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