Social Media Firms Face New U.K. Regulator in Planned Crackdown


(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government plans to sketch out proposals to crack down on online pornography and incitement to violence as soon as this month, two people familiar with the matter said.

It would include a framework to ensure social media companies such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. protect U.K. users from harmful content, as well as appointing a regulator to enforce the rules, according to one of the people familiar with the plan, who asked not to be named discussing policy that hasn’t been finalized. The people did not give details of any proposed enforcement mechanisms.

The U.K. is trying to get to grips with ungoverned areas of the internet as it increasingly dominates modern life and exposes children in particular to harmful experiences, including abuse, bullying and terrorist material.

In January, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham unveiled a code of conduct designed to protect children’s data online so they’re less exposed to damaging content. And from April, Boris Johnson’s government plans to roll out a digital services tax to target internet giants as international efforts drag on.

Online Harms

But so-called online harms represent one of the trickiest areas to regulate because of the vast amount of material that gets posted daily on social media sites. The government last year unveiled a white paper outlining possible measures it could take on the matter, and calling for feedback.

Among the ideas mooted in the white paper were to give regulators the power to levy “substantial fines” on companies that don’t heed “clear standards” or can’t show they are meeting their duty of care to their users.

The proposals would be an initial response to that consultation, but a fuller reply and legislation would follow later in the year, according to the person. One plan being discussed is for the communications regulator Ofcom to be given oversight of the social media companies, one of the people said. An alternative would be to set up an entirely new regulator.

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