The government is to introduce its Online Safety Bill in Parliament on Thursday. The bill is intended to tackle a wide range of harmful online content, such as cyber-bullying, pornography and material promoting self-harm.
Social networks could be fined or blocked if they fail to remove harmful content, and their bosses could be imprisoned for a lack of compliance.
Senior managers would also be criminally liable if they destroyed evidence, did not attend an Ofcom interview, provided false information, or otherwise obstructed the regulator from entering offices.
Any firm breaching the rules would face a fine of up to 10% of its turnover, while non-compliant websites could be blocked entirely.
The Online Safety Bill marks a milestone in the fight for a new digital age which is safer for users and holds tech giants to account. It will protect children from harmful content such as pornography and limit people’s exposure to illegal content, while protecting freedom of speech.
It will require social media platforms, search engines and other apps and websites allowing people to post their own content to protect children, tackle illegal activity and uphold their stated terms and conditions.
The regulator Ofcom will have the power to fine companies failing to comply with the laws up to ten per cent of their annual global turnover, force them to improve their practices and block non-compliant sites.
The government is announcing that executives whose companies fail to cooperate with Ofcom’s information requests could now face prosecution or jail time within two months of the Bill becoming law, instead of two years as it was previously drafted.
A raft of other new offences have also been added to the Bill to make in-scope companies’ senior managers criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information in interviews with Ofcom, and for obstructing the regulator when it enters company offices.
UK Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “The internet has transformed our lives for the better. It’s connected us and empowered us. But on the other side, tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behaviour have run riot on their platforms. Instead they have been left to mark their own homework.
“We don’t give it a second’s thought when we buckle our seat belts to protect ourselves when driving. Given all the risks online, it’s only sensible we ensure similar basic protections for the digital age. If we fail to act, we risk sacrificing the wellbeing and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of unchecked algorithms.
“Since taking on the job I have listened to people in politics, wider society and industry and strengthened the Bill, so that we can achieve our central aim: to make the UK the safest place to go online.”