10 social networks ignored UK government consultations

So ministers hit the airwaves to reveal looming ‘obligation’ for rapid abuse takedown and colossal fines for not doing it

Just four of 14 social networks asked to consult with the UK government on regulation of social media attended the talks, so ministers have revealed plans to require rapid removal of abusive and objectionable material and substantial fines for not doing so.

Minister for Digital Margot James and Culture Secretary Matt Hancock took to the airwaves over the weekend to outline those plans.

James’ appearance on Sky News programme Ridge on Sunday saw her foreshadow legislation to compel immediate takedowns of abusive content.

“We are going to expect companies to take down this stuff immediately,” she said, adding that she envisages “something similar” to the Data Protection Act’s penalties of up to four per cent of global turnover for non-compliance, with lesser penalties applied first.

James said social networks should use AI to do the job, and that doing so will keep costs low enough that UK taxpayers won’t have to provide funds.

“It should be up to the platform itself” to remove such content, rather than a function of government. “The fact that most of them don’t is highly irresponsible, which is why we intend to introduce legislation.”

Culture Secretary Hancock appeared on The Andrew Marr Show and revealed that consultation with social media on such matters has gone badly: just four of 14 social networks invited to consultation talks showed up.

“The fact that only four companies turned up when I invited the 14 biggest in, gave me a big impetus to drive this proposal to legislate through,” he said. “Before then, and until now, there has been this argument ‘work with the companies’. You know, do it on a voluntary basis, they’ll do more that way because you’re not – the lawyers won’t be involved, they’ll be doing best efforts.”

“And after all, these companies were set up to make the world a better place. The fact that there are now companies that have social media platforms with over a million people on then and they didn’t turn up.” Hancock suggested that smaller social networks may be using larger outfits as shields.

“I think one of the problems we’ve had recently, and having been in this area of work politically for the last, almost two years… is that we engage with Facebook and Google and Twitter and they get all of the press and they get all of the complaints in the public domain debate.”

Hancock suggested the instant takedown proposal could become law in two years.

He also revealed (PDF) the government is working on a White Paper considering how to ensure social media services verify members’ age so that age restrictions in their terms of service aren’t ignored. ®

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