Tech giants face massive fines and blocked websites

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 could also prevent non-compliant services from being accessed in the UK

“I’m outrageously 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 enshrine legal guarantees of freedom of expression.”

Less than 3% of businesses in the UK fall within the scope of the online claims 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.”

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.

Tech companies reportedly could face fines similar to the UK – up to 10% of global annual sales – for violating new EU rules.

“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 proposals from the UK and the EU 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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