Government considers creating social-media regulator with sanctioning powers

With new internet-safety legislation due later this year, respondents to a government consultation have urged the creation of a dedicated regulator with the power to punish

The government is drawing up legislation to make social media safer for UK users.

A green paper on internet safety strategy was published in October, which kicked off a consultation process. That has now concluded, and the government has published its response, a cornerstone of which is a commitment to set out proposals for new legislation in a white paper to be published before the end of 2018.

These proposed laws will aim to address “the full range of online harms”.

The flagship piece of legislation will be a social media code of practice.

While the exact nature and legal formality of this code are yet to be finalised, children’s charities and other respondents to the consultation told the government that it should be “legally binding, underpinned by an independent regulator, and backed up by a sanctions regime”.

Punitive measures at the disposal of the regulator should include “an ability to levy substantial fines” on social media companies that breach the code, the Children’s Charities Coalition on Internet Safety told the government in its consultation response.

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The legislation also intends to introduce provisions for transparency reporting, in which social networks will be required to publish details of reports of offensive content filed by UK users. Companies will likely also be asked to provide information on their policies for removing content and expelling users, and what support measures they provide, such as links to mental-health support providers.

The internet safety white paper will also include measures to try and ensure that “the principles that govern advertising in traditional media – such as preventing companies targeting unsuitable advertisements at children – also apply and are enforced online”.

The legislative proposals will be jointly drawn up by the Home Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Home secretary Sajid Javid said: “Criminals are using the internet to further their exploitation and abuse of children, while terrorists are abusing these platforms to recruit people and incite atrocities. We need to protect our communities from these heinous crimes and vile propaganda, and that is why this government has been taking the lead on this issue.”

Culture secretary Matt Hancock added: “People increasingly live their lives through online platforms, so it’s more important than ever that people are safe and parents can have confidence they can keep their children from harm. The measures we’re taking forward today will help make sure children are protected online and balance the need for safety with the great freedoms the internet brings just as we have to strike this balance offline.”

More than 500 individuals and organisations responded to the consultation, with 60% claiming that they had seen inappropriate or harmful content on the internet. Some 41% have experienced abuse online, and the vast majority of these – 84% – did not know the person or people perpetrating the abuse.

Of those who have reported concerns to administrators of a social network, only 41% felt that these had been taken seriously.


Sam Trendall

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