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Social media giants face heavy fines and blocked web sites beneath the brand new UK guidelines on dangerous content material

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The logos of Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and TikTok are displayed on a computer screen.

Denis Charlet | AFP via Getty Images

LONDON – UK regulators could soon have the power to penalize and block the websites of social media giants like Facebook, TikTok and Twitter for not removing harmful content under new laws.

The proposals, unveiled on Tuesday, are part of the UK government's bid to force tech giants to rid their platforms of illegal and toxic content. Managers could be held personally liable for failure to comply with a legally binding duty of care. It comes when authorities around the world crack down on big tech.

Social media services that host user-generated content or allow people to talk to others online must remove and limit the distribution of content that contains child sexual abuse, terrorist material, or suicide, according to the government. You also need to do more to ensure children are not exposed to care, bullying, or pornography.

Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and other popular social networks have to set clear terms and conditions that specify how to deal with content that is legal but can cause significant physical or psychological harm to adults, e.g. B. Misinformation About Coronavirus Vaccines.

UK media watchdog Ofcom will have the power to penalize companies for non-compliance up to £ 18 million (US $ 24 million) or 10% of their annual global sales, whichever is greater. Ofcom would also be able to block access to non-compliant services in the UK.

"I'm ridiculously pro-tech, but that can't mean tech is free for everyone," UK digital secretary Oliver Dowden said in a statement. "Today the UK is setting the global standard for online safety with the most comprehensive approach to online regulation yet."

"We are entering a new age of accountability for technology to protect children and vulnerable users, restore trust in the industry, and anchor legal protections for freedom of expression."

Less than 3% of businesses in the UK fall within the scope of online safety rules, according to the government. The new legal framework has to be passed by the UK Parliament before it becomes law.

Dowden added, "This proportionate new framework will ensure that we don't burden small businesses unnecessarily, but rather give large digital companies solid rules on how to drive so that we can use the brilliance of modern technology to improve our lives."

Technology giants answer

Rebecca Stimson, Facebook's director of public policy in the UK, said the company has "long been calling for new rules to set high standards on the Internet".

"Protecting people from harm without compromising freedom of expression or the incredible benefits of the internet is a complex challenge," she added. "We look forward to continuing discussions with government, parliament and the rest of the industry as this process continues."

Twitter said it was "deeply committed to keeping people safe online".

"We support forward-looking regulation and understand that a unified approach does not take into account the diversity of our online environment," a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement.

Meanwhile, TikTok said it looks forward to reviewing the proposals and working with the government to "strengthen online security".

"At TikTok, security isn't a problem, it's our starting point for building a creative, diverse community," said a spokesman for the Chinese company.

Global clampdown

The announcement of the new rules comes as regulators around the world try to tighten big tech.

Later on Tuesday, the European Union will announce plans for major digital reforms to ensure tech giants take more responsibility for the content on their platforms. The rules are also designed to prevent such companies from promoting their own services while competing with other services.

According to reports, tech companies could face fines similar to those proposed in the UK for violating new EU rules – up to 10% of global annual sales.

"In recent years, governments, society and technology firms themselves have recognized the need for coordinated action to combat harmful online content," said Ben Packer, partner at Linklaters global law firm. "Today's UK and EU proposals are the most ambitious measures ever announced."

"Although the regulations differ in many ways, both online platforms impose new and potentially burdensome obligations to protect their users from harmful content. Both also propose severe penalties for those who fail to comply, including fines of up to 10% of a company's global sales. "

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Katherine Clark