The UK and France are to consider imposing fines on social media companies such as Google and Facebook if they fail to remove extremist content as part of a joint national security effort in the wake of a series of attacks on both countries.
The government announced the initiative ahead of prime minister Theresa May’s meeting with French president Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday to discuss measures against extremists.
“The counter-terrorism cooperation between British and French intelligence agencies is already strong, but President Macron and I agree that more should be done to tackle the terrorist threat online,” May stated ahead of the visit.
“The UK and France will work together to encourage corporations to do more and abide by their social responsibility to step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks.”
In the wake of the London Bridge attack earlier this month May said she held internet companies to blame, arguing they created a “safe space” for extremist ideologies.
May and Macron are to discuss working with technology companies to develop tools that could automatically identify and remove content and are expected to press the industry to step up the establishment of a forum devoted to the issue, as agreed at the G7 summit in Italy last month.
Home secretary Amber Rudd and Macron’s interior minister, Gérard Collomb, are to meet in the coming days to work out details of the initiative.
Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee, said the proposed legislation could force social media companies to change their “irresponsible approach” to extremist content.
“They have a disgraceful disregard for the law,” she stated. “The cross-party home affairs select committee called for a system of fines and stronger legislation. So if that is what the British and French governments are working on now, that is really welcome.”
Macron and May are scheduled to meet at the Elysée Palace on Tuesday afternoon before a working dinner at which the Elysée said they would “look at the possibilities for deepening our cooperation on counter-terrorism, both bilaterally and on a European basis”.
Critics of May’s approach argue that her focus upon the misdeeds of internet firms is politically convenient but overly narrow, noting that as home secretary she oversaw significant reductions in police staff and other resources.
May’s Conservative Party lost its majority in last week’s snap general election, while Macron’s newly established centrist party, La République En Marche, led the polls in Sunday’s first round of elections.
The proposed measures resemble those introduced by Germany in a bill in March, which would force social media companies to delete “obvious” criminal content within 24 hours and other illegal content within a week or face fines of up to 50 million euros (£44m).
While those rules remain under consideration, German chancellor Angela Merkel has pushed for Europe-wide laws of the same kind, and over the weekend, at a speech in Mexico, argued for regulations that could be enforced on an international basis.
Merkel said Germany plans to use its presidency of the G20 to develop digital policies for controlling extremist content at a summit in Hamburg next month.
The current US presidential administration has played down any possible crackdown on social media companies, focusing instead on efforts to tighten restrictions on travel into the country.
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