U.K. Sets Out Sweeping Law to Curb Illegal and Harmful Content
A gavel sits on a stage. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News)

U.K. Sets Out Sweeping Law to Curb Illegal and Harmful Content

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Technology companies face fines, blocked sites and liability for senior executives if they fail to remove illegal and harmful content, U.K. ministers said.

A new Online Safety Bill will attempt to impose accountability for illegal or potentially harmful content such as material promoting terrorism or spreading disinformation about Covid-19. Companies could be fined as much as 10% of annual global revenue if they breach regulations, details of which are to be announced Tuesday, Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden and Home Secretary Priti Patel said in an emailed statement.

A group of companies with the biggest audiences, which will probably include Facebook Inc., Bytedance Inc.’s TikTok and Twitter Inc., will be put in their own category with additional requirements to publish transparency reports about “the steps they are taking to tackle online harms,” according to the statement. This group will have to assess the riskiness of legal content on their services, and then clarify and enforce standards of acceptability.

The rules will be administered by U.K. communications regulator Ofcom, and its costs will be paid by the biggest companies they apply to. Some content will be exempt, such as journalism and reader comments on news sites. However, some advertising, such as posts by social media influencers, will be affected.

“We will not allow child sexual abuse, terrorist material and other harmful content to fester on online platforms,” said Patel. “Tech companies must put public safety first or face the consequences.”

The bill will be introduced next year, and will affect up to 3% of U.K. businesses. It will apply to a swathe of services from search engines to marketplaces to consumer cloud storage.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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