UK plans to hold Facebook, other social media firms liable for harmful content | News | DW | 08.04.2019
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UK plans to hold Facebook, other social media firms liable for harmful content

Facebook faced global condemnation after a gunman used the platform to livestream his attack on Muslims in Christchurch. Now Britain has unveiled laws to target social media firms for allowing harmful content online.

The British government has announced new online safety proposals designed to punish social media companies for failing to protect users from harmful content.

The push comes after a gunman was able to broadcast his massacre of New Zealand mosque-goers live on Facebook last month, raising serious questions about tech firms' ability to police damaging posts. Social media firms have also been accused of allowing cyberbullying, the spread of pornography, and disinformation during election campaigns.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said tech companies had "not done enough" to protect users, especially children and young people, and that her government intended to put "a legal duty of care" on the firms "to keep people safe."

"That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently," she said in a statement. "Online companies must start taking responsibility for their platforms, and help restore public trust in this technology."

Read moreNew Zealand seeks answers from Facebook over livestreamed massacre

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What are the proposals?

The proposed safety laws were unveiled in a policy paper and include plans to set up an independent regulator, which would set clear safety standards and have the power to force platforms to publish annual transparency reports.

The measures would target a range of content deemed harmful, from posts that encourage violence and suicide to those that spread disinformation

The rules would apply to file-hosting sites and chat forums, as well as social media platforms, messaging services and search engines — basically anywhere people can interact with each other online and share or access user generation content.

The government said it was looking into using fines, blocking access to websites and imposing liability on individuals in senior management for failing to meet the safety standards.

Read more: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg calls for internet regulation

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Balance between free speech and protection

Rebecca Stimson, Facebook's head of UK public policy, said any new measures should strike a balance between protecting society and supporting innovation and free speech.

"These are complex issues to get right and we look forward to working with the government and parliament to ensure new regulations are effective," Stimson said in a statement.

Industry trade group TechUK said the policy paper was a significant step, but added that the government's approach lacked clarity.

Read moreFacebook to tighten live stream access after Christchurch attacks

Peter Wanless, head of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, welcomed the proposals: "For too long social networks have failed to prioritize children's safety and left them exposed to grooming, abuse, and harmful content," he said.

"It's high time they were forced to act through this legally binding duty to protect children, backed up with hefty punishments if they fail to do so."

nm/ng (AFP, Reuters)

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