Social-media giants such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc will have to reveal the scale of cyber bullying in the UK and face being made to pay the cost of dealing with it. Under the latest guidance by the UK government, technology companies will be required to publish an annual report on how complaints are handled, the reported abuse that is pulled down and the extent of their efforts to moderate bullying or offensive content about children, women, gay people or religions.
One of the proposals is for “an industry-wide levy so social-media companies and communication service providers contribute to raise awareness and counter internet harms,” according to a statement published Wednesday that didn’t give further details. “Behavior that is unacceptable in real life is unacceptable on a computer screen,” Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said in an email released by her office. “We need an approach to the internet that protects everyone.”
The campaign is part of the government’s wider strategy to force technology companies to accept greater responsibility for their content. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has also called on companies to “step up” and assume moral responsibility for ridding their platforms of terrorist content, refusing to rule out the prospect of compulsion by fines or legislation. The UK has been pushing the envelope in terms of how willing it is to go after Silicon Valley. Efforts to end hate speech and trolling on social media have intensified in the wake of five terror attacks this year, yet the desire to regulate tech firms – in ways that are unprecedented – risks driving them offshore.
On Tuesday, Sharon White, the chief executive of UK media regulator Ofcom, said she viewed companies like Facebook as news publishers. Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesman, James Slack, later told reporters that the government was “looking at the role Google and Facebook play in the news environment” as well as “the roles, responsibility and legal status of the major internet platforms.” In May 2016, a number of social-media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google’s YouTube voluntarily committed to trying to take down illegal content within 24 hours.
But last month the European Commission called upon the tech firms to do more to block illegal content. Germany has passed a law requiring hate speech to be removed within 24 hours of it being flagged, with penalties of up to 50 million euros ($60 million) for repeated failures to comply. In September, May went further. At a meeting at the United Nations, she propose new rules requiring internet companies to take down extremist content within two hours.