Social media firms could be fined up to £18m for not protecting users under new laws.
The long-awaited Online Safety Bill could also see online platforms being blocked in the UK if they do not abide by a duty of care to their users, particularly children and vulnerable people.
The legislation, which the government will bring forward next year, means Ofcom can fine firms up to £18m or 10% of global turnover, whichever is higher.
However, proposals for criminal liability for senior executives at non-compliant firms appear to have been scaled back, with the government aiming to bring those powers into force through secondary legislation.
Keith Watts’ daughter took her own life when she was 19 years old.
Zoe Watts was a talented athlete with a “great sense of humour”, but struggled with anorexia and had been viewing images of self-harm online. Her father described the content she had viewed as “beyond belief… horrifying”.
Mr Watts said: “If I had known what was going on social media, what was being pushed around I would probably have taken her phone away.”
He hopes the new legislation is a “huge step in the right direction” but says smaller social media firms “can’t side step the rules and carry on”.
Mared Barry was groomed online as a teenager. She said she didn’t think anything of it when older men began contacting her online and asking for explicit images.
She said: “It was just innocent to start with and then that soon snowballed into something that wasn’t innocent, but it was so subtle that I didn’t even recognise it for what it was until four or five years later.”
Ms Barry believes the new legislation is a good place to start, but doesn’t go far enough.
“It’s been about 15 years since social media has been booming and nothing has been done until now and it’s taken to this point just to get the bare minimum of regulation, it makes me feel sick that more hasn’t been done, this is obviously just the start,” she said.
Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said the laws will create a “new age of accountability”, but that it is also important to protect free speech.
He said: “I’m unashamedly pro tech but that can’t mean a tech free-for-all.” He added the country is “setting the global standard” for safety online with the “most comprehensive approach yet”.
The proposed legislation will apply to any company hosting user-generated content, or that allows people to interact online in the UK.
A small group of high-profile platforms, including Facebook, TikTok and Instagram, will face tougher responsibilities in a two-tier system.
Mr Dowden said: “This proportionate new framework will ensure we don’t put unnecessary burdens on small businesses but give large digital businesses robust rules of the road to follow so we can seize the brilliance of modern technology to improve our lives.”
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