Government plans to regulate social media need “much more clarity,” a Twitter boss told the BBC.
Katy Minshall said the online safety bill does not address major concerns and risks leaving the regulator Ofcom to “waterfalls”.
He also said plans to fine companies that break the rules pose an “almost existential” threat.
But the culture secretary said the bill would make the UK “the safest place in the world to be online”.
Writing in the Daily Mail, Nadine Dorries claimed that “online hatred has poisoned public life, is intolerable, is often unbearable and must stop.”
“That’s enough. Social media companies have no excuses. And once this bill passes in Parliament, they will have no choice.”
He also said the government has decided to “review how our legislation can go even further to ensure that the largest social media companies adequately protect users from anonymous abuse.”
Meanwhile, a high-level government source said “social media giants may take action now to eliminate abuse, but instead seek excuses.”
What’s in the draft online safety law?
- Ofcom would gain powers to regulate social media sites
- It could force companies to have a duty to take care of their users, including protecting users from legal but harmful content, such as abuse that does not exceed the crime threshold
- Companies that violate Ofcom rules could face fines of up to £ 18 million
- Social media sites should also moderate content from different political perspectives equally and without discrimination
- Provisions would be introduced to tackle online scams, such as romantic fraud and false investment opportunities.
Instead of simply targeting those who post offensive material, the government bill would place more responsibility on the people who own the platforms.
Regulator Ofcom would have the power to impose fines of up to £ 18 million or 10% of global profits, whichever is higher, on social media platforms that do not comply with the new laws.
Ofcom would also have the power to block services from the UK if they are deemed to present a significant risk of harm to UK citizens.
But Twitter is worried that the bill gives too much influence to the culture secretary on Ofcom.
The current bill would allow Ms Dorries to change the Ofcom code of conduct which would be used to regulate Facebook and Twitter.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Westminster Hour program, Ms Minshall – the UK’s head of politics for Twitter – said the bill gives the minister “unusual powers”.
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He also rejected the idea of stricter rules on online anonymity, something some lawmakers have campaigned for.
Conservative MP Mark Francois said people who post “horrific abuse” online shouldn’t be allowed to “hide behind a cloak of anonymity with the connivance of for-profit social media companies.”
But Minshall argued that blocking anonymous accounts “would not solve the problems of online abuse” and could harm people who rely on the “pseudonym.”
“If you are a young person exploring your sexuality or are a victim of domestic violence looking for help and support online, the pseudonym is a really important security tool for you.”
He added that users already had to provide a date of birth, full name and email address when registering, meaning the police could access data on an account, even if someone had used a pseudonym.
When asked about the fines that could be imposed on companies, he said those penalties were “almost existential”.
In February of this year, Twitter boss Jack Dorsey said his company had a “remarkable year” in 2020, with revenues up 28% to $ 1.29 billion (£ 930 million). ) compared to the last quarter of 2019.
Minshall said the bill raised “all kinds of really important questions” such as “how to define legal but harmful content” and “what kind of exemptions should we make for journalistic or democratic content.”
“These are questions that Parliament has to answer,” he added.
MPs and colleagues are currently examining the bill and will hear evidence from representatives of Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and TikTok next Thursday.
Writing in the mirror, Labor’s shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens described the government bill as “weak and ineffective”, adding that it “will not do the work we need.”
He said the government should introduce criminal sanctions against the heads of big tech companies who repeatedly violate new laws.
He also expressed concern that small businesses would be subject to less stringent rules.
- House of Commons
- Online safety bill
- Social media
- Online abuse
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