Labour wants to fine or break up social media companies that fail to protect children

The politician says the government should step in to protect children from online harms / Unsplash

Fresh from a highly publicised call to banish mascots from cereal packaging, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson has come out fighting once more, this time with US social media platforms firmly in his sights.

Addressing a future Labour government’s approach to the sector during a major policy speech later today, Watson is expected to outline how a new regulatory watchdog could be given the powers to break up or hand multi-million pound fines to companies like Facebook and Google.

The politician says the government should step in to protect children from online harms under a legal duty of care proposed by Labour.

“For the duty of care to be effective we need penalties that seriously affect companies’ bottom lines,” he will say.

Watson is expected to argue that politicians will be forced to "steer the power of technology back towards the public interest" should social media sites fail to protect users.

The focus of Watson’s concern follows on from on a recent BBC investigation which highlighted the cast of 14-year-old Molly Russell who took her own life after viewing inappropriate self-harm content on Instagram. Watson's comments also come amid a rising tide of fake news, which he fears is "sowing division and bringing extremism from the margins to the mainstream".

Watson will say: "Future competition reviews should consider whether companies are acquiring data and patents that enable monopolisation. And the scale of the largest companies is rightly the subject of scrutiny.

"We should take seriously the calls to break them up if it is in the public interest."

The current UK government is expected to publish its own white paper on the issue later this month.

Watson has previously advocated EU sanctions as one means of tackling the search market dominance of Google.

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