The UK Government has announced proposals for a voluntary levy on Internet companies “to raise awareness and counter internet harms”. The government has said that the levy would target issues such as cyberbullying, online abuse and children being exposed to pornography on the Internet.
The levy is one of a series of measures proposed in the Internet Safety Green Paper, which is the result of a consultation launched in February. The other measures include:
· A new social media code of practice to require more intervention by social media companies against allegedly bullying, intimidating or humiliating content
· An annual Internet safety transparency report, to help government track how fast social media companies remove material that has been the subject of a complaint
· Demands for tech and digital startups to “think safety first” – prioritising features to facilitate complaints content removal as functionality that must be into apps and products from the very start
All the measures will be voluntary although the government has not ruled out legislating if companies refuse to take part. In remarks that will be of concern to Internet companies, the Culture Secretary Karen Bradley hinted that the government could change the legal status of social media companies, to deem them publishers rather than platforms, which could mean even greater regulation of their users’ content.
“Legally they are mere conduits but we are looking at their role and their responsibilities and we are looking at what their status should be. They are not legally publishers at this stage but we are looking at these issues,” she said.
The consultation will close on 7 December, and the government expects to respond in early 2018.