New UK law set to fine social media firms up to £18mn for illegal content
Fines up to £18 million or ten per cent of annual global turnover of tech firms, whichever is higher, will be slapped on tech firms that fail to remove and limit the spread of illegal content under new laws and block non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK.
The new rules, intended to enforce a ‘new age of accountability’ for social media, includes the power to hold senior managers of the tech companies liable. They will not affect articles and comments on news websites, and there will be additional measures to protect free speech.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport said in statement that 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”, it said, adding that the measures will be set out in detail by home secretary Priti Patel and culture secretary Oliver Dowden on Tuesday.
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.
Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, will have the power to fine companies failing in their duty of care.
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”.
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.”
The new regulations will apply to any company in the world hosting user-generated content online accessible by people in the UK or enabling them to privately or publicly interact with others online.
It includes social media, video sharing and instant messaging platforms, online forums, dating apps, commercial pornography websites, as well as online marketplaces, peer-to-peer services, consumer cloud storage sites and video games which allow online interaction. Search engines will also be subject to the new regulations.
Online journalism from news publishers’ websites will be exempt, as will reader comments on such sites. Specific measures will be included in the legislation to make sure journalistic content is still protected when it is reshared on social media platforms, the statement added.