Silicon Valley giants could be faced with a tax penalty should they fail to prevent the spread of terrorism and extremism online, the UK’s minister of state for security has said.
The minister, Ben Wallace, claimed Britain was the most vulnerable it has been for 100 years due to terrorism fuelled by radicalising online content.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Wallace claimed that the government was having to spend "millions" to de-radicalise people exposed to extremist content online “because content is not taken down as quickly as they [the internet firms] could do”.
He warned that “patience is running out fast” with "ruthless profiteers" that put profit before public safety, revealing that tax measures were being considered as a means to make them cooperate.
“Because of encryption and because of radicalisation, the cost of that is heaped on law enforcement agencies,” Wallace told the paper. "I have to have more human surveillance. It’s costing hundreds of millions of pounds. If they [internet firms] continue to be less than co-operative, we should look at things like tax as a way of incentivising them or compensating for their inaction."
The additional levy could come in the form of a windfall tax similar to that imposed on the privatised utilities in 1997 and on banks in 1981, the newspaper said.
While internet companies have taken steps to tackle child abuse online, they “don’t seem to be making the same effort” against extremism, Wallace said.
His warning comes after a parliamentary inquiry into fake news criticised Twitter and Facebook for failing to properly act against Russian attempts to influence British politics.
MP Damian Collins, chairman of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said Facebook had appeared to have done “no work” to fully root out accounts that could be linked to Russian-backed agencies during the EU referendum.
Twitter was condemned by the committee for a “completely inadequate” response to the investigation.
In June, Facebook, Microsoft, YouTube and Twitter formed the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to address the “critical challenge” posed by the spread of terrorism online.
Google-owned YouTube announced in December it will “significantly” increase the number of staff tracking down extremist, violent and predatory content posted on YouTube to more than 10,000 in 2018.