The UK government on Monday proposed a plan for a “world-leading” package of online safety measures that will make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups.
The proposed regulations, outlined in the Online Harms White Paper, suggest establishing in law a new duty of care towards users, which would be overseen by an independent regulator. Companies would be required to tackle a comprehensive set of harms, ranging from illegal activity and content to behaviors which are harmful but not necessarily illegal.
If companies failed to meet this new duty of care, the independent regulator would have numerous enforcement powers that would disrupt the business activities of non-compliant companies, including the ability to impose liability on individual members of senior management and measures to block non-compliant services.
Prime Minister Theresa May wrote (see below) on Facebook that she wants the UK to be the safest place to be online.
Up until now, we have allowed these (social media) firms to regulate themselves, but it is simply no longer working. Online companies are increasingly operating without consideration for some of their most vulnerable users.
The White Paper is a draft of the bill. Before it gets published and becomes official, it will be subject to a public comment period until July 1.
We are leading the way on making the internet safer: Theresa May
Over the last 15 years, the internet has transformed beyond all recognition.Social media has become part of our daily lives, digital businesses are flourishing, and we have a wealth of information and resources at the click of a button.
The internet, and social media in particular, can be an enormous force for good; a way for us to stay connected with friends, family, and colleagues across the world.
But it has become clear that our laws have not kept pace with the rapid rate of change.
I want this country to be the safest place to be online — especially for children and vulnerable people. This means internet firms must take responsibility for their content and platforms.
Up until now, we have allowed these firms to regulate themselves, but it is simply no longer working.
Online companies are increasingly operating without consideration for some of their most vulnerable users.
Recently, we’ve seen tragic cases of young people taking their own lives after being overwhelmed by harmful content they have viewed online.
In fact, a staggering one in five internet users say they have come across harmful content.
This is simply unacceptable — and today, we are acting.
Our Online Harms White Paper sets out our plans for new, world-leading legislation — placing a legal duty of care on these companies to keep users safe from harm.This will cover platforms that enable users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online. It will include social media sites, public discussion forums, messaging services and search engines.
And if internet companies fail in this duty of care, a new independent regulator will impose tough punishments — including substantial fines.
But regulation is not just about punishing these companies. Improving behaviour in this space will help build trust in these technologies.
Parents can then be safe in the knowledge that their children aren’t viewing harmful or distressing content
We are leading the way on this internationally. And crucially, we’re giving businesses clarity and certainty over what is expected of them.