Ofcom will be given tougher powers to regulate the sector under a new Online Safety Bill, amid mounting fears over harmful content on the web
Social media firms will be slapped with £18million fines or face having to pay 10% of global turnover if they fail to tackle abusive and harmful content online.
Under the new draft Online Safety Bill, Ofcom will be given beefed up powers to regulate the sector, including the ability to block access to sites.
The crackdown, which was contained in the Queen’s Speech, follows mounting fears for kids’ welfare over content they are exposed to online.
Companies will have a “duty of care to improve the safety of their users”, including stamping out racism and abuse.
Senior managers could even be criminally liable for failing to follow the new rules at a later date, under deferred powers contained in the new legislation.
Provisions to tackle online scams and protect freedom of expression have also been included.
Tech giants have come under mounting pressure to curb the surge in incidents in online abuse in recent years.
Top football clubs recently took part in a social media boycott against sickening racist abuse suffered by players, which was backed by the Duke of Cambridge.
The new rules, which are expected to be brought before Parliament in the coming months, are set to be the first major set of regulations for the internet anywhere in the world.
“Today the UK shows global leadership with our ground-breaking laws to usher in a new age of accountability for tech and bring fairness and accountability to the online world,” Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden said.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he added: “What does all of that mean in the real world? It means a 13-year-old will no longer be able to access pornographic images on Twitter.
“YouTube will be banned from recommending videos promoting terrorist ideologies.
“Criminal anti-semitic posts will need to be removed without delay, while platforms will have to stop the intolerable level of abuse that many women face in almost every single online setting.
“And, of course, this legislation will make sure the internet is not a safe space for horrors such as child sexual abuse or terrorism.”
The biggest tech firms and platforms will also be expected to take action against content that is lawful but still harmful, such as that linked to suicide and self-harm and misinformation.
Deferred power to pursue criminal action against named senior managers will also introduced if tech companies fail to live up to their new responsibilities, with a review of the new rules set to take place two years after it is introduced.
Online scams will also be targeted, such as romance scams or fake investment opportunities where people are tricked into sending money to fake firms.
Platforms will also be forbidden from discriminating against particular political viewpoints, and must allow certain types of content which would otherwise be banned if it is defined as “democratically important”.
Home Secretary Priti Patel said the new rules would help police to tackle child abuse and criminals who defraud millions of people.
“It’s time for tech companies to be held to account and to protect the British people from harm. If they fail to do so, they will face penalties,” she said.
But the NSPCC has warned that the draft Bill fails to offer the comprehensive protection that children should receive on social media.
Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Government has the opportunity to deliver a transformative Online Safety Bill if they choose to make it work for children and families, not just what’s palatable to tech firms.
“The ambition to achieve safety by design is the right one. But this landmark piece of legislation risks falling short if Oliver Dowden does not tackle the complexities of online abuse and fails to learn the lessons from other regulated sectors.
“Successful regulation requires the powers and tools necessary to achieve the rhetoric.
“Unless Government stands firm on their promise to put child safety front and centre of the Bill, children will continue to be exposed to harm and sexual abuse in their everyday lives which could have been avoided.”
Labour called the proposals “watered down and incomplete” and said the new rules did “very little” to ensure children are safe online.
Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “There is little to incentivise companies to prevent their platforms from being used for harmful practices.
“The Bill, which will have taken the Government more than five years from its first promise to act to be published, is a wasted opportunity to put into place future proofed legislation to provide an effective and all-encompassing regulatory framework to keep people safe online.”