LONDON — Britain on Wednesday launched a plan that might give the government extra latitude to control web content material, as a part of an effort to drive Fb, YouTube and different web giants to do extra to police their platforms.
The British government stated the nation’s media regulator, referred to as Ofcom, would tackle new tasks monitoring web content material, and would have the facility to problem penalties in opposition to firms that don’t do sufficient to fight “dangerous and unlawful terrorist and little one abuse content material.”
Left unanswered have been many particulars, together with what penalties the brand new regulator would have at its disposal or how it could maintain tabs on the billions of items of user-generated content material which might be posted on the social media platforms.
A proposal circulated by the federal government final yr instructed that the regulator may problem fines, block entry to web sites, and make particular person executives legally chargeable for dangerous content material unfold on their platforms.
The federal government stated additional particulars can be launched within the spring.
“We’ll give the regulator the powers it wants to guide the battle for an web that continues to be vibrant and open however with the protections, accountability and transparency folks deserve,” stated Nicky Morgan, the secretary of Division for Digital, Tradition, Media and Sport, the company that introduced the proposal on Wednesday.
The push for harder regulation exhibits a divergence from the American-driven imaginative and prescient of the web that’s largely market-driven and free of presidency oversight. In Europe and in Britain, the place free speech is extra regulated than in america, there was a rising willingness to impose new guidelines on the internet, notably associated to hate speech, terrorism and materials focusing on youngsters.
In Germany, firms danger fines if hate content material just isn’t eliminated in as little as 24 hours. France is considering a similar proposal. The European Union is also debating changes to laws that protect internet companies from being liable for content posted on their platforms.
Free speech and human rights advocates warned the policies would lead to censorship and be used as a template by more repressive governments.
Europe has been targeting the tech industry for years over growing concerns that American tech giants have too much power and influence. A sweeping privacy law enacted in 2018, called the General Data Protection Regulation, limits what personal information can be collected and shared online. Enforcement of European Union antitrust laws has resulted in billions of dollars in penalties against Google, Apple, Amazon and others for anticompetitive behavior.
Prof. Wendy Hall, a computer scientist at Southampton University in England, said the British proposal showed how the internet was fracturing around the world, with different regions adopting different standards. At one end, she said, is the American approach that lacks regulation and is largely market-driven; at the other sits China’s top-down government control and censorship.
Professor Hall said that Europe was attempting to find a middle path, but that democratic governments must tread carefully because judging what is acceptable online is often very subjective.
“There’s not an easy solution if you’re not an authoritarian government,” said Professor Hall, who has served as a government policy adviser on the use of artificial intelligence.
The British proposal is the first step toward building on recommendations that officials introduced last year to regulate the web. The regulations to be debated in the months ahead will apply to internet platforms that carry user-generated content, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.
Placing Ofcom in charge of internet-content regulation adds to the agency’s responsibilities overseeing Britain’s television networks, radio stations and newspapers, as well as country’s internet service providers.
Child-protection groups have pushed for the regulations, arguing that too much harmful content is available to young people.
“The government has today signaled they are willing to stand up to Silicon Valley and commit to landmark British regulation that could set a global standard in protecting children online,” Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, said in a statement.
In Britain, the handling of the tech industry presents a dilemma. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the sector is critical to the country’s economic future outside the European Union, but his government is also attempting tighter oversight. Antitrust regulators have vowed to clamp down on anticompetitive behavior by big online platforms. And the country’s top privacy regulator is investigating the internet advertising industry.
Many who work in the tech industry are concerned the rules will have unintended consequences, particularly for start-ups that don’t have the financial or legal resources to navigate a more complex regulatory environment.
“It becomes a moat for them,” said Rob Kniaz, a partner at the venture capital firm Hoxton Ventures in London. “These things always favor the incumbents.”