Government To Require Social Media ‘Impartiality’

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Social media companies face large fines for failing to remove illegal or dangerous content, along with requirement to protect impartiality

The government is reportedly planning to introduce a new law this week that aims to put more pressure on social media firms to remove illegal content, while including protections on free speech.

The online safety bill primarily creates a duty of care obliging companies to take initiative to remove illegal content, and to report it to authorities.

But it also includes a requirement for companies to be impartial and to refrain from “arbitrarily” removing comments because they are controversial, The Times reported, citing unnamed sources.

Evil parliament (c) pisaphotography, Shutterstock 2014, social mediaFines

The plans, to be announced on Tuesday, would see the new rules being enforced by Ofcom, which would have the power to impose multi-million pound fines or bar companies from operating in the UK.

The government will also publish its response to an earlier consultation on the rules.

The government is reportedly concerned that social media firms are removing legitimate content because it is controversial, rather than harmful or inaccurate.

The legislation also includes provisions specifically protecting journalism and comments on news websites.

During the US election campaign Facebook and Twitter controversially placed restrictions on the distribution of a New York Post article critical of Joe Biden’s son.

Criminal prosecution

Facebook said it restricted the article while it was being fact-checked, while Twitter said it limited distribution of the article under a policy against content obtained through hacking.

Plans for companies’ senior management to be made criminally liable for harmful content have reportedly been scaled back in the bill.

The threat of criminal prosecution will be held as a “last resort” for firms that repeatedly breach the duty of care, the Times said.

Some had called for the use of criminal penalties, in addition to fines, for companies that fail to remove illegal or harmful content, arguing that even large fines can be ineffective against large, multinational tech companies.

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