U.K. Says Social Media Regulator Will Be Given ‘Teeth’ It Needs

Ruben Fields
February 14, 2020

The watchdog Ofcom is set to be given new powers to tackle "corrosive and abhorrent harms" on social media, the United Kingdom government has announced.

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.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's administration identified content depicting child abuse, terrorism and self-harm as key areas it would look to tackle with the regulatory overhaul.

'With Ofcom at the helm of a proportionate and strong regulatory regime, we have an incredible opportunity to lead the world in building a thriving digital economy, driven by groundbreaking technology, that is trusted by and protects everyone in the United Kingdom, ' said Ms Morgan.

One issue that appears settled by this Response is the appointment of Ofcom as the regulator for Online Harms, which is not stated in the Response to be an interim regulator pending the appointment of a new, permanent regulator (contrary to some of this morning's media reports).

In its white paper, the British government said it could potentially give regulators power to impose fines on large tech companies and block internet service providers.

The report details the government's follow-up plans to its white paper on online harms last April, which promised to make companies more responsible for their users' safety online.

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"The new regulatory framework will instead require companies, where relevant, to explicitly state what content and behaviour is acceptable on their sites and then for platforms to enforce this consistently".

Baroness Morgan told the BBC: "There are many platforms who ideally would not have wanted regulation, but I think that's changing".

Keeping people safe was something Facebook took extremely seriously, she said, and in recent years the company had tripled the number of people working on the issue to 35,000 and was using artificial intelligence to find and remove harmful content.

"Two thirds of adults in the United Kingdom are concerned about content online, and close to half say that they have seen hateful content in the past year", Wednesday's report said. "They should apply both to the tech platforms as corporate entities, but we also think it's hugely important that we see a named director scheme, where named directors have the responsibility for upholding that duty of care". A business simply having a social media presence does not necessarily mean it will be in scope. The government said it would publish a full response to the consultation in the spring, but did not give a timeline for legislation.

Ofcom is described as having a "proven track record" in regulating telecoms in the United Kingdom, and the government hopes that greater powers will enable it to control, remove and prevent the appearance of content such as bullying, terrorism and child abuse.

However, the chair elect of the parliamentary DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight said the statement failed to demonstrate the urgency that is required.

However, there has been no confirmation of what punishments or fines the bolstered regulator will be able to hand out.

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