Prosecute social media firms for illegal content: UK watchdog

LONDON • Social media companies should face prosecution for failing to remove racist and extremist material from their websites, said a report by an influential committee.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, British Prime Minister Theresa May's ethics watchdog, has recommended introducing laws to shift the liability for illegal content onto social media firms, and calls for them to do more to take down intimidatory content.

Social media companies currently do not have liability for the content on their sites, even when it is illegal, said the committee's report.

The recommendations form part of the conclusions of an inquiry into intimidation experienced by parliamentary candidates in an election campaign this year.

"The widespread use of social media has been the most significant factor accelerating and enabling intimidatory behaviour in recent years," the report said. While it said intimidation in public life is an old problem, the scale and intensity of intimidation is now posing a threat to Britain's democracy.

It found that women, ethnic minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political candidates are disproportionately likely to be the targets of intimidation.

The committee heard how racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic and anti-Semitic abuse is putting off some candidates from standing for public office.

Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook were criticised for failing to remove abusive material posted online, even after they were notified.

The committee said it was "surprised and concerned" that Google, Facebook and Twitter do not collect data on the material they take down, adding that addressing online intimidation seemed not to be a priority.

Twitter said in a statement it has announced several updates to its platform, aimed at cutting down on abusive content, and it is taking action on 10 times the number of abusive accounts every day compared with the same time last year.

YouTube declined to comment. Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Prosecute social media firms for illegal content: UK watchdog'. Print Edition | Subscribe