Tech bosses could be fined or face jail sentences if their companies do not prevent harmful content from appearing on its websites, according to a new plan that would regulate social media in the United Kingdom. In January, British authorities intend to publish their response to a consultation on how the government should respond to violations of standards by tech giants such as Facebook and Google after Britain leaves the European Union.
Ministers reportedly plan to place tech companies under a statutory duty of care with the Office of Communications (Ofcom) monitoring the implementation of these rules. Under the plan, tech bosses could be held personally accountable if their companies do not protect users from harmful content such as violence and child abuse or are found to be spreading harmful information like the drugs trade or terrorism.
"We will legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online — protecting children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online", the Conservative Party said in its recently released manifesto.
Last week, the Home Office's head of national security penned a 15-page letter to the US Senate Judiciary Committee saying Facebook’s plans to introduce end-to-end encryption would hamper the UK’s ability to fight terrorism and paedophilia.
British authorities admitted that regulating tech giants, most of which are based abroad would be challenging. To make sure that the new legislation will work the government would oblige these companies to appoint a director based in the UK, who would be held accountable if rules are violated. The government is likely to drop plans that would see internet providers banning websites and applications in Britain that fail to meet standards.
Ofcom would be tasked to draw up legally binding codes of practice that would tell tech giants what they need to do to protect users from harmful content – cyber-bullying, child abuse, illegal sales of drugs and weapons, terrorism, or self-harm. Fines could be linked to annual turnover or the amount of harmful material online. At the same time, the new plan would include proportionate punishment, so small social media companies won’t be imposed enormous fines comparable to giants like Facebook.