UK proposes to regulate internet platforms and punish offenders

Alex Rajakovich, Staff Reporter

On Monday April 11, Britain proposed a new set of safety laws that would “slap penalties on social media companies and technology firms if they fail to protect their users from harmful content,” according to Business Day.

In a policy paper called a “white paper,” reviewed by Forbes, the British government proposed setting up a system of regulators to “police online platforms with serious penalties if they fail to remove violent content ‘expeditiously’.” The report also included a recommendation that this force should be funded initially by industry, but the government has stated that it is considering setting up an “industry levy” to make it sustainable in the long term.

This most recent push from the British comes after similar action was proposed by some European countries, plus Australia and New Zealand, to give regulators more power in the wake of serious concerns that “extremists like the so-called Islamic State group or far-right political groups are using them to recruit young people, pedophiles are using the technology to groom victims and young people are sharing dangerous information about self-harm and suicide,” according to The Associated Press. Business Day mentioned that these global worries were stoked “by the live streaming of the mass shooting at the mosque in New Zealand” on Facebook last month.

These proposals are controversial and are under much pressure because, as Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright stated, “no one in the world has done this before, and it’s important that we get it right.” According to The Associated Press, Britain “will consider imposing financial penalties similar to those in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which permit fines of up to 4% of a company’s annual worldwide revenue. In extreme cases, the government may also seek the power to fine individual company directors and prevent companies from operating in the U.K.”

Regulating or controlling what is said and posted on the internet is highly controversial. The idea is facing criticism. Forbes reported that Joy Hyvarinen of Index on Censorship argues that the white paper “will establish the direction for future internet regulation. Index is concerned that protecting freedom of expression is less important [to the government] than the government wanting to be seen as ‘doing something’ in response to public pressure.” She went on to say, “internet regulation needs a calm, evidence-based approach that safeguards freedom of expression rather than undermining it.”

The United States reveres free speech and has largely relied on market forces to regulate content, but governments in Europe, The Associated Press reported, “have signaled they are willing to take on the tech companies to block harmful content and prevent extremists from using the internet to fan the flames of hatred.”

There are many parts to the proposed legislation and it is only in its beginning stages.ccording to Forbes, the British government “will now consult on the proposals, and will publish a final version in around three months,” so there is still a lot of time for things to be added, removed and amended. Despite this, one thing is certain: Britain wants change. Forbes included the statistic that 83% of Brits believe that Facebook needs to be regulated for various reasons.

Prime Minister Theresa May voiced this same view by saying, “The internet can be brilliant at connecting people across the world — but for too long these companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from harmful content. That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently.”

Editor’s Note: Information from The Associated Press, Forbes Magazine and Business Day was used in this report.