According to the news report by Bloomberg, the UK government is now proposing fines as well as bans against Facebook Inc. and other social media companies if they do not control illegal activities on their platforms. The nation joins a growing number of countries in taking exception to the content on these social media platforms.
This action by the UK government follows the live-stream of the March 15 attack on a mosque in Christchurch in New Zealand. 50 people died in that attack and the horrendous tragedy was live-streamed by the alleged attacker. Both Facebook as well as YouTube faced global condemnation for not having reacted fast enough in removing that content from their platforms.
Now, the government of UK has outlined plans to create a regulator funded by the industry that will police such social media companies’ platforms for negative and harmful content like child sexual exploitation as well as encouraging terrorism. This action is a part of Prime Minister Theresa May’s push to hold these companies responsible for what happens on their platforms.
A member of the UK’s Conservative Party, and the Chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins, said that this attack was the reason why the government wanted to introduce new regulations for such technology companies. Collins stated that a regulator would need to have the power to investigate how such content of an atrocity was so easily shared and why more wasn’t done to stop such content from being aired sooner.
The UK is following steps that have been taken by other countries such as Australia as well as those in the European Union to increase the scrutiny on technology companies that have so far mostly gone under the radar in terms of industry regulation.
In fact, last week, Australia passed a law that incorporated possible prison sentences for as much as 3 years for such companies’ executives if they failed to remove objectionable content from their sites.
Now, the UK could follow suit and impose liability on individual executives in these technology companies. To this end, the country’s government laid out its proposals as it initiated a 12-week consultation starting from Monday, April 8.
The proposed laws will be applicable to any company that allows users to find or share content, or interact with other users online. This would include social media platforms, public discussion forums, search engines, messaging services and file-hosting websites.
There are also other proposals that have been outlined by the government. These include establishing a code of practice that would require minimizing the spread of misleading or false information, as well as a yearly transparency report on dangerous and harmful content on such websites.
Lawmakers in the EU are also voting on Monday, April 8 on rules for removal of online content related to terrorism as part of a larger initiative to make social media platforms more responsible for what is posted on their sites.
Even in the United States, the home country of both Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google and YouTube, condemnation against technology companies is growing. There has been a string of Congressional hearings against Facebook and other technology companies, a lawsuit by Republican Congressman Devin Nunes against Twitter, and complaints that Facebook has too much power coming in from politicians and other people in the country.
However, the UK government’s proposal for fresh regulations has not been welcomed universally. The Institute of Economic Affairs, which is a pro-market research establishment, has said that these plans by the government are draconian and will most likely do more harm than good since it would hold back innovation.
The Director General of the institute, Mark Littlewood stated that if the government was given power to dictate content, it would set a dangerous precedent.