UK government could hold social media execs personally liable for harmful content

The UK government is set to publish a white paper outlining a tough new duty of care on the part of social media executives, by holding them personally responsible for the distribution of harmful content on their platforms.

According to the Guardian, which has obtained a leaked copy of the report, the proposals will legislate for a new statutory duty of care to be policed by an independent regulator and financed via a levy on media companies – ending the current model of self-regulation.

Sweeping reforms would also encompass closer government involvement to direct the regulator, likely to be Ofcom at least initially, to investigate specific issues such as terrorism and pedophilia. Social media firms would also be required to publish an annual transparency report detailing the extent of harmful content and the measures being adopted to reduce it.

The white paper also sets out measures to improve cooperation between social media firms and law enforcement bodies to tackle wider societal issues such as the distribution of illegal firearms.

The new duty of care comes amid criticism of how Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and now TikTok, police the content and comments posted within their walls.

The political temperature between tech giants and MPs has been raised in recent weeks following the case of Molly Russell, whose suicide was partly blamed by her parents on images of self-harm viewed on Instagram. Facebook's live-streaming of the Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand also raised fresh questions about the role platforms have to play in protecting users.

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