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

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

By Michelle Donelan, Secretary of Culture

British values ​​are family values. We protect our children from those who want 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 foundations 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 basic British values ​​to be reflected online. But that’s hard when social media companies have the financial clout of small countries, and when CEOs have all the power of presidents without any accountability. So we need to make it clear that our values ​​and our way of life are determined by us, not by Silicon Valley.

Next week, one of the most important building blocks of a safer, freer and more user-friendly online world will return to the House of Representatives. I have carefully revised the Online Safety Act to ensure it reflects the values ​​of our way of life: protecting children, protecting the vulnerable, protecting legal freedom of expression and defending consumer choice.

Protecting children is the fundamental reason the online safety law was created, so the changes I made greatly strengthen the child protection elements of the law. While free speech debates have dominated the conversation, the original goal 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 redlined the child protection measures in the bill and pledged to protect and strengthen them. When the bill returns, it will include even stronger protections for children, combined with adult user rights protections that inject real choice for users.

Technology companies will need to protect children from a range of harmful content, including child sexual abuse, pornography and cyberbullying. If they fail, they risk hefty fines that can amount to 10 percent of their annual global turnover. For Meta, that would currently amount to $12 billion.

I have also tightened up the legislation to deal with the absurd situation with age limits. Some platforms claim they don’t allow anyone under 13 – any parent will tell you this is bullshit. Some platforms claim not to allow children, but at the same time have ads aimed at children. The legislation now forces companies to be much clearer about how they enforce their own age limits.

This is completely separate from the changes I’m making for adults, which I approached with a few simple principles: what’s illegal offline should be illegal online, tech giants should play on their own terms, and the government shouldn’t interfere to tell adults what legal content they can see.

The “legal but harmful” clauses in the bill, in my opinion, violate adults’ right to choose what legal speech they say and see. So I’ve dropped “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 executives will no longer be able to arbitrarily silence people, nor will they continue to treat parts of society differently.

Instead of issuing edicts to tech companies about what they can and cannot monitor on their sites, we’re putting control back in the hands of users, while also making sure social media companies stop putting profit before children’s lives. In addition, where it is demonstrably clear that something should be illegal, we should make it illegal. Thanks to an amendment announced on Tuesday, we will close the loopholes that allow the heinous encouragement of self-harm.

Together, these commonsense-based solutions form the basis of a bill that will change lives for the better while protecting the rights and values ​​we hold dear.

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