Social media giants face multi-million pound fines if they fail to ban child accounts

Our values ​​should be dictated by us, not by Silicon Valley

By Michelle Donelan, Culture Secretary

British values ​​are family values. We protect our children from those who wish to harm them. We defend the most vulnerable. And we all know that, whether in a family or in society, freedom of expression and the right to disagree are the foundation of a healthy community. So why should we allow the online world to be any different?

I don’t think it’s too much to ask for these core British values ​​to be reflected online. But this is difficult when social media companies have the financial clout of small countries and when business leaders have all the power of presidents without any accountability. So we need to make it clear that our values ​​and our way of life will be determined by us, not by Silicon Valley.

Next week, one of the most important elements of a safer, freer and more user-friendly online world returns to Parliament. I have carefully amended the Online Safety Bill to ensure it reflects our way of life values ​​– protecting children, protecting the vulnerable, protecting legal freedom of expression and upholding choice. consumers.

Child protection is the fundamental reason the Online Safety Bill was created, and so the changes I have made significantly strengthen the child protection elements of the Bill. Although debates around freedom of speech dominated the conversation, its original purpose was to protect young people like Molly Russell. In 2017, the 14-year-old took her own life after being bombarded with self-harm content on Instagram and Pinterest.

So when I became digital secretary, I put a red line on child protections in the bill, promising to protect and strengthen them. Upon its return, the bill will contain even stronger protections for children, combined with user rights protections for adults that inject real choice for users.

Tech companies will need to protect children from a range of harmful content, including child sexual abuse, pornography and cyberbullying. If they fail, they will face huge fines of up to 10% of their annual worldwide turnover. For Meta, this would currently represent up to 12 billion dollars.

I have also strengthened legislation to help tackle the absurd situation we have with age limits. Some platforms claim they don’t allow anyone under 13 – any parent will tell you that’s nonsense. Some platforms claim not to allow children, but simultaneously serve ads targeting children. Legislation now requires companies to be much clearer about how they apply their own age limits.

This is completely separate from the changes I’m making to adults, which I’ve tackled with a few simple principles – what’s illegal offline should be illegal online, tech giants have to abide by their own terms and conditions, and the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling adults what legal content they can see.

The bill’s “legal but harmful” clauses, in my view, violated the right of adults to choose the legal speech they say and see. So I removed “legal but harmful” in favor of a new system based on choice and freedom.

Likewise, if something isn’t prohibited in their terms and conditions, tech giants shouldn’t remove it. Platforms will have to be much more transparent about how their algorithms work and, for the first time, users will have the right to appeal. Silicon Valley leaders will no longer be able to arbitrarily silence people, nor continue to treat certain sections of society differently.

Rather than issuing edicts to tech companies on what legal speech they should and shouldn’t control on their sites, we’re putting control back in the hands of users, while ensuring that social media companies no longer do put profit before children’s lives. Along with that, when it’s demonstrably obvious that something should be illegal, we should make it illegal. Thanks to an amendment announced on Tuesday, we will close the legal loopholes that allow for the horrific encouragement of self-harm.

These common sense solutions combine to form the basis of a bill that will truly change lives for the better, while protecting the rights and values ​​we hold dear.

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