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Government to tighten rules on online content

Government tightens rules on content for social media platforms

The government has now set out legislation that will introduce new online content laws that would make the likes of Facebook and Google liable for materials that appear on their platforms. The legislation will also establish a new regulator to oversee its implementation and police it once in law.

I’m giving tech companies a message they cannot ignore. I warned you and you didn’t do enough. It’s no longer a matter of choice. We cannot allow the leaders of some of the tech companies to simply look the other way and deny their share of responsibility even as content on their platform incites criminality, abuse and even murder.

- Sajid Javid MP: Home Secretary, Home Office

Not only will social media companies, online forums, search engines and messaging services now be responsible for their online content they will be expected to exercise a ‘duty of care’ and take ‘reasonable steps’ to tackle both illegal and harmful content. The legislation lays out tiers of content with tougher rules being applied to content such as child abuse images and terrorism.

The new act will introduce a new regulator to enforce the rules and it would have powers including fining companies, introduces personal liability for senior executives of the tech companies as well as block sites.

Users will have the means for complaints and companies will be obliged to introduce transparency reports in response to those complaints. The government has now opened a 12-week consultation period on the legislation and has included 18 questions within the white paper, inviting comments and responses.

The UK remains committed to a multi-stakeholder model of internet governance as the best way to ensure a free, open and secure internet. All stakeholders from industry, civil society and government have a responsibility to help address legitimate online harms.

- Online Harms White Paper: UK Government

The White Paper has been broadly welcomed as a good step forward in the murky area of online content which has always been contentious. It has also been difficult to establish exactly what constitutes harmful content away from the more obvious classifications of child abuse and terrorism.

And under the proposed legislation it covers any website that ‘allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online.’ This could include any site with a comments section, or individual user profile pages. Even news sites and video game stores are not exempt.

As an individual you are allowed to respond to the consultation if you feel you have something to say. You can do this either through the 18 questions found online at gov.uk or by writing to your MP. I’m sure they would welcome a break from Brexit duties.


A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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