Online harms bill: firms face up to £18m fine for illegal content
UK government sets out strict guidelines to govern removal of material promoting child sexual abuse and terrorism
Social media companies will need to remove and limit the spread of harmful content or face fines of up to £18m, the government has announced, as it finally reveals the details of its proposed internet regulation.
The online harms bill, first proposed by Theresa May’s government in April 2019, sets out strict new guidelines governing removal of illegal content such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material and media that promotes suicide, which sites must obey or face being blocked in the UK.
It also requires platforms to abide by a new code of conduct that sets out their responsibilities towards children. The bill requires the most popular sites to set their own terms and conditions, and face fines if they fail to stick to them.
For the first time, online misinformation will come under the remit of a government regulator, in cases when content is legal but could cause significant physical or psychological harm to adults.
Ofcom, which has been confirmed as the regulator by the bill, will have the power to levy unprecedented fines of up to £18m or 10% of global turnover. By contrast, GDPR laws cap fines at €20m (£18m) or 4% of global turnover. Ofcom will also have the power to block services from the UK entirely.
The government has backed down on one suggestion, made in the initial consultation, to bring criminal sanctions against individual executives. The legislation includes provisions for such penalties, but that power will need to be separately introduced by parliament via secondary legislation. The government says it plans to introduce that legislation only if companies fail to take the new rules seriously.
“Today Britain is setting the global standard for safety online with the most comprehensive approach yet to online regulation,” said the digital secretary, Oliver Dowden.