The United Kingdom based watchdog Ofcom will now be handed over new powers to ensure that social media companies are forced to take action against harmful content.
This is the first time that such a step is being taken for companies like Facebook, Tiktok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter which have till now mostly been self regulated.
The policies and rules that are created by these companies themselves about taking down unacceptable content and preventing their platforms to be misused have been defended by the companies. But critics have demanded that such companies need to be subjected to independent rules to keep users safe.
Reports however could not make it clear that what powers of imposing penalties for violations would be conferred on Ofcom for issues like violence, cyber-bullying and child abuse content on social media platforms.
In recent years, users, law makers, critics and organizations have been making repeated calls for social media companies to be more proactive to prevent objectionable content, especially following the death of Molly Russell who took her own life after viewing graphic content on Instagram.
It is “minded” to grant new powers to Ofcom, the government has now announced. The organization is currently in charge of regulating the media and the telecoms industry but not the aspect of internet safety.
Under the new powers to be handed over to Ofcom, it will be able to enforce responsibility of protecting people and users from harmful content such as violence, terrorism, cyber-bullying and child abuse on the social media companies. It will also be able to force platforms to quickly take down such content.
Social media companies will also be obliged to “minimise the risks” of such content appearing on the platform at all.
The appointment of a new chief executive, Dame Melanie Dawes, has been announced by the regulator.
“There are many platforms who ideally would not have wanted regulation, but I think that’s changing,” said UK’s Digital Secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan. “I think they understand now that actually regulation is coming.”
Calls for “a muscular approach” to regulation was given by Julian Knight, chair elect of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee which scrutinises social media companies.
“That means more than a hefty fine – it means having the clout to disrupt the activities of businesses that fail to comply, and ultimately, the threat of a prison sentence for breaking the law,” he said.
It had “long called” for new regulations, said Facebook in a statement and added that it was “looking forward to carrying on the discussion” with the government and wider industry.
All companies that host user-generated content, including comments, forums and video-sharing will come under purview of the new regulations and is most likely to include Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok.
The news was welcomed by children’s charity the NSPCC. “Too many times social media companies have said: ‘We don’t like the idea of children being abused on our sites, we’ll do something, leave it to us,'” said chief executive Peter Wanless.
(Adapted from BBC.com)