United Kingdom watchdog to crackdown on social media companies and harmful content

Joanna Estrada
February 14, 2020

The government's plans represent a vast watering down of the "Online Harms" proposals initially put forward last April.

Indeed, the IA also warned that the measures could have serious consequences for online freedom of expression.

The Government's proposals said the regulator - set to be Ofcom - would have the responsibility of making sure online companies have the systems and processes in place to fulfil the duty of care to keep people using their platforms safe.

Following a consultation, the United Kingdom government said on Wednesday it planned to legislate to ensure companies had systems in place to tackle harmful content such as child abuse, cyber bullying and terrorist propaganda.

Britain first announced past year that it would develop new online safety laws, saying they would be the toughest in the world.

Digital Secretary @NickyMorgan01 and Home Secretary Priti Patel @patel4witham recommend @Ofcom as the regulator to enforce rules to make the internet a safer place.

The UK government has announced plans to appoint media watchdog Ofcom as an online regulator, giving it powers to act swiftly on harmful content on social media.

"We will not prevent adults from accessing or posting legal content, nor require companies to remove specific pieces of legal content", they wrote. The government hope the measures will help tackle not only cyber-bullying, but also other darker sides of the internet.

But a decision has been delayed on more controversial aspects of how the reforms could be enforced.

"Instead, the government should seek to ensure that companies have sufficient independent scrutiny of their actions".

Andy Burrows, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children's (NSPCC) head of child safety online policy, said: "Any regulator will only succeed if it has the power to hit rogue companies hard in the pocket and hold named directors criminally accountable for putting children at risk on their sites".

"Today's proposals are long overdue, and nothing short of legislation will reassure families that their loved ones are safe online", she said.

The announcement risks inflaming tensions with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has already pushed back against Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plans to roll out in April a digital services tax to target internet giants as worldwide efforts to devise a global solution drag on. "Ofcom's experience makes it an appropriate voice in this debate but if it is to take on this new role, vastly expanding on its current remit, it must be given the appropriate resources and be upskilled to meet the challenge ahead". While there is a reference to "UK businesses" in the Response, it does not clarify that only businesses registered in the United Kingdom will be caught within the regulator's scope for the purposes of Online Harms regulations, or whether businesses elsewhere that offer services to individuals in the United Kingdom will also be caught (and if the latter then this raises complex jurisdictional issues which become all the more complex in a post-Brexit world where several tech companies have their European headquarters in the Republic of Ireland).

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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