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Tech Companies Will Now Face Charges Over “Online Harm”

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The news plans suggested by the British government propose fines for social networks if they fail to combat online harms such as terrorist propaganda, suicide, child abuse, and live shootings.

Following the Facebook live video that left 50 people dead and the teenager that committed suicide after influence from social media, activists have called on social networks to take responsibility for every material shared on their networks.  The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has suggested an independent watchdog and a code of conducts for tech companies to follow.

The social networks created the platforms for human engagement and financial profit; however, some users abuse the platforms by leveraging on the traffic to inflict harm on other people, promote propaganda, spread terrorist content, promote fake news, harass other users and sexually abuse people. The government says that the social networks must take responsibility for every material uploaded to their sites.

In 2017, Molly Russel, a teenager committed suicide. A series of materials on Instagram influenced it. After she passed on, her family found materials that encourage suicide and self-harm on her Instagram account. Her father blamed her death on the platform. If Instagram had paid attention to every content uploaded to the site, it could have flagged down those materials, and maybe Molly would still be alive.

At the moment, the government is cracking down on all social media giant. Failure to take responsibility will attract a considerable fine, although one think tank thinks this new proposal is an attack on freedom of speech.

Jeremy Wright, Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Secretary disapproved of self-regulation.  He said the period for self-regulation for social networks was over. He said they have not been consistent with tackling online harm or “gone far enough.”

The proposal wants otherwise, an independent watchdog to regulate the companies and hold them accountable for any abuse. The government is yet to decide if a body will be established or an existing one employed to act as the new watchdog which will be funded by the tech companies- Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

Sajid David, Home Secretary to the organisation, said the social networks have a moral duty to protect the users whom they profit from. An independent watchdog is therefore long overdue. The regulator will have the power to fine and shame companies that breach the new law. Sajid David said:

“Despite our repeated calls to action, harmful and illegal content-including child abuse and terrorism is still too readily available online.”

The government said in the proposal that it is also considering compelling search engines to remove links with harmful content or block malicious sites or prevent them from being listed by search engines.

This concern with censorship has raised some issues. Britain criticises Iran, China, and Russia for violating freedom of speech; yet, it is about to do the same in its country. It’s a tough one for both the government and the onlookers. The UK wants to remain the safest place in the world and the best place to start a digital company. Both aspirations are incompatible.  

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