UK Will Hold Social Media Bosses Accountable For Content

Next Tuesday is Safer Internet Day, and apart from being a good idea in its own right, it could see more detail revealed on how the Government intends to regulate the internet.

The Telegraph is in a good position to comment here because it has been backing the notion that a "duty of care" be placed on social media giants for the past year or more. Its latest prediction is very telling.

According to its latest reporting, the paper is suggesting that the Government is willing to go all-in on regulation. Not only is it looking to pass on a duty of care to the platforms, but the paper is claiming the Culture Secretary, Baroness Morgan, will make the bosses at the social giants personally liable.

Now, the headline and the standfirst of the story breaking the news makes it sound like this will mean Zuckerberg and Dorsey could be in the dock if things go wrong. That is actually highly unlikely.

Reading between the lines, it looks like Baroness Morgan is going to force each of the big internet companies to appoint someone who is responsible for caring for users. If harmful content is allowed to remain online without being taken down, that person will be held personally liable and could find themselves in court.

It's funny because this is exactly what a banker friend of mine has been saying for ages. We have talked about Zuckerberg snubbing a parliamentary committee and being empty chaired. It speaks volumes about how little power politicians have, other than to embarrass billionaires.

However, as my friend was suggesting, in banking it's very different. There is ultimately an executive who knows they could face jail time if things go wrong. So, guess who's the most committed to ensure compliance and fair play? 

It would be the same in social media. One top exec would know it's their liberty on the line if things go wrong and would need to take personal responsibility for having systems to block -- and if missed, take down harmful content, once moderators have found it or have been alerted.

It would be hard to imagine the powers that be in Washington would find this as contentious as the proposed Tech Tax. Ultimately, the UK authorities are simply saying someone has to carry the can for standards, and that seems reasonable. 

The time frame outlined by The Telegraph is some opening statements next Tuesday on Safer Internet Day followed by proposed legislation when parliament reconvenes after this summer's break. That would mean new rules would probably be in place by the end of 2021. 

As this column has been saying for some time, an internet regulator (almost certainly Ofcom) is on its way. The new development is that it will have the power to recommend top executives are put before a judge if they fail to live up to the duty of care they will have imposed on them by the end of next year. 

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