UK Wants to Hold Companies Liable for Harmful Online Behavior – Digitalmunition

News UK Wants to Hold Companies Liable for Harmful Online Behavior

Published on August 22nd, 2019 📆 | 5834 Views ⚑


UK Wants to Hold Companies Liable for Harmful Online Behavior

The UK government announced today a set of online safety laws designed to hold the companies behind social media platforms liable for the harmful behavior spreading through their platforms.

As detailed in the Online Harms White Paper joint proposal published by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and the UK Home Office, the law package “comprises legislative and non-legislative measures and will make companies more responsible for their users’ safety online, especially children and other vulnerable groups.”

At the moment the Online Harms White Paper is under an open consultations status which will allow the government to collect opinions from “organisations, companies and others with relevant views, insights or evidence” regarding the future online safety regulatory framework, a consultation which will end at 23:59, on July 1, 2019.

The problems addressed by the regulatory framework described in the Online Harms White Paper are:

  • Illegal and unacceptable content and activity is widespread online, and UK users are concerned about what they see and experience on the internet.
  • Terrorist groups use the internet to spread propaganda designed to radicalise vulnerable people, and distribute material designed to aid or abet terrorist attacks.
  • There is also a real danger that hostile actors use online disinformation to undermine our democratic values and principles.
  • Rival criminal gangs use social media to promote gang culture and incite violence.
  • The internet can be used to harass, bully or intimidate, especially people in vulnerable groups or in public life.

UK’s proposed online safety laws will appoint an independent regulator to enforce the future standards which will force social media companies and tech firms alike to follow a mandatory “duty of care” to protect users while using their platform, with heavy fines to be issued if they fail to deliver.

Right now, the regulator which will enforce the future framework is not yet appointed and the UK Government is yet to decide if it should be a new or an already existing body.

“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,” said Prime Minister Theresa May. “That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently.”

“We have listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe. Online companies must start taking responsibility for their platforms, and help restore public trust in this technology,” also said May.

Once enacted, the new laws will apply to any company which makes it possible for its users to share content or interact with other users, as is the case of social networks, media hosting sites, forums, messaging platforms, search engines, and file hosting websites.

Among the measures to be put into law as described in the Online Harms White Paper:

  • A new statutory ‘duty of care’ to make companies take more responsibility for the safety of their users and tackle harm caused by content or activity on their services.
  • Further stringent requirements on tech companies to ensure child abuse and terrorist content is not disseminated online.
  • Giving a regulator the power to force social media platforms and others to publish annual transparency reports on the amount of harmful content on their platforms and what they are doing to address this.
  • Making companies respond to users’ complaints, and act to address them quickly.
  • Codes of practice, issued by the regulator, which could include measures such as requirements to minimise the spread of misleading and harmful disinformation with dedicated fact checkers, particularly during election periods.
  • A new “Safety by Design” framework to help companies incorporate online safety features in new apps and platforms from the start.
  • A media literacy strategy to equip people with the knowledge to recognise and deal with a range of deceptive and malicious behaviours online, including catfishing, grooming and extremism. 

Some of the harms to be tackled by UK’s new online safety laws are “inciting violence and violent content, encouraging suicide, disinformation, cyber bullying and children accessing inappropriate material,” as detailed in Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s press release.

A full list of all the online harms which are in the scope of the Online Harms White Paper are listed in the table below, although according to the UK government this initial list is not fixed and could be appended as needed “to address new forms of online harm, new technologies and online activities” to allow for swift regulatory action.

Harms with a clear legal definitionHarms with a less clear legal definitionUnderage exposure to legal content
Child sexual abuse and exploitationCyberbullying and trollingChildren accessing pornography
Terrorist content and activityExtremist content and activityChildren accessing inappropriate material (including under 13s using social media and under-18s using dating apps; excessive screen time)
Organised immigration crimeCoercive behaviour 
Modern slaveryIntimidation 
Extreme pornographyDisinformation 
Revenge pornographyViolent content 
Harassment and cyberstalkingAdvocacy of self-harm 
Hate crimePromotion of Female Genital Mutilation 
Encouraging or assisting suicide  
Incitement of violence  
Sale of illegal goods / services, such as drugs and weapons (on the open internet)  
Contempt of court and interference with legal proceedings  
Sexting of indecent images by under 18s  

“The tech giants and social media companies have a moral duty to protect the young people they profit from,” stated Home Secretary Sajid Javid. “Despite our repeated calls to action, harmful and illegal content – including child abuse and terrorism – is still too readily available online.”

Additionally, Digital Secretary Jeremy Wright said: “We want the UK to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business and our proposals for new laws will help make sure everyone in our country can enjoy the Internet safely.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office also issued a response after the UK Government published the Online Harms White Paper, with the Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham saying:

I think the white paper proposals reflect people’s growing mistrust of social media and online services. People want to use these services, they appreciate the value of them, but they’re increasingly questioning how much control they have of what they see, and how their information is used. That relationship needs repairing, and regulation can help that. If we get this right, we can protect people online while embracing the opportunities of digital innovation.

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