The UK government wants to regulate social media.

On Wednesday, Britain announced an initial proposal to give new powers to its broadcast regulator Ofcom to regulate internet companies. Ofcom would enforce a new "statutory duty of care" that platforms will have to their users.

  • The new rules would require companies such as Facebook and Twitter to quickly remove illegal material, particularly "terrorist content and online child sexual abuse." They would also have to minimize the risk of it appearing on feeds in the first place.
  • When it comes to children, the rules would be even more stringent, requiring companies to "take reasonable steps to protect them from inappropriate or harmful content." The government has not yet announced what the punishment would be for failing to do so, though Bloomberg reports, citing an unidentified source, that fines are being considered. The government also said it's considering making senior executives liable for failing to protect users.
  • Opinion is already divided on the proposed rules. Some worry it's an overreach of government power, posing a threat to free speech; others think the rules simply require platforms to do what they already do. Expect more debate before the government's plans are finalized.
  • More broadly, this move would represent another example of a single country — like Germany and Australia before it — taking its own stance on harmful online content. Some critics have argued that this approach risks creating national divides on the web that could, among other things, make it hard for small companies to comply with rules.
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