U.K. Websites To Be Fined For ‘Online Harms,’ According To New Government Plans

Close up of the Google home page on a laptop
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A new proposal is being put in place that could see websites in the U.K. fined for “online harms” a report from the BBC states. The aim is to tackle such harms as terrorist propaganda and/or child abuse head on. Under new government plans, tech companies and social media sites will need to comply with a new “code of practice” set up by The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Sites which are unable to comply or are otherwise in breach of the new rules may be subject to a fine or have their domain blocked from search engines. According to ITV News, the government is considering giving regulators the power to make site managers liable for any offenses.

The government has defined what constitutes online harms, including illegal and non-illegal actions. The new plan will cover such issues as child sex abuse, terrorist activity or terrorist content, hate crime, inciting violence, the sale of illegal items such as drugs and guns, online activity that can be described as extremist and extreme and/or revenge pornography, amongst others.

According to reports, less severe offenses such as cyberbullying and spreading fake news are also being placed under the new ruling. Social media sites that advocate self-harm or suicide will also be held accountable.

In response to this, many social networking sites have expressed willingness to comply with the new proposals.

Mark Zuckerberg at the F8 Facebook Conference in 2018
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“New regulations are needed so that we have a standardized approach across platforms and private companies aren’t making so many important decisions alone,” said Rebecca Stimson, Facebook’s head of U.K. policy.

Twitter’s head of U.K. public policy has also issued a statement in support.

“We look forward to engaging in the next steps of the process, and working to strike an appropriate balance between keeping users safe and preserving the open, free nature of the internet.”

The proposal comes after a number of incidents involving online activity, such as the recent terrorist attack on the mosque in New Zealand last month, and teenager Molly Russell who committed suicide in 2017 after being exposed to self-harm content on Instagram.

However, some critics are concerned that such a proposal may affect the freedom of speech of internet users. Executive director of the U.K.-based Open Rights Group, Jim Killock, has said that the government’s new rules on cracking down on online harms may “create state regulation of the speech of millions of British citizens.”

A 12-week consultation will be taking place before the final legislation is to be published.