FILE PHOTO: Britain’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries arrives at Downing Street, in London, Britain, November 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Nicholson

March 16, 2022

By David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s government said on Wednesday that executives at social media companies such as Facebook would face up to two years in jail if they provide inaccurate information to regulators’ official inquiries.

As part of new legislation being presented to parliament on Thursday, senior managers at tech companies will become “criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information in interviews with Ofcom, and for obstructing the regulator when it enters company offices”.

The tougher legislation – which the government says aims to reduce online harassment and child sexual abuse – will also see companies be liable for prosecution within two months of the law’s passage, rather than two years as previously planned.

“Tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse and criminal behaviour have run riot on their platforms. Instead they have been left to mark their own homework,” Nadine Dorries, Secretary of State for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport, said.

The government also said it would provide clearer guidance on communication that it viewed as legal but harmful – such as some forms of harassment, or the promotion of eating disorders – which social media platforms would be required to suppress.

“This change removes any incentives or pressure for platforms to over-remove legal content or controversial comments and will clear up the grey area around what constitutes legal but harmful,” the government said.

News content will have a blanket exemption.

The changes were welcomed by a parliamentary committee which has scrutinised earlier drafts of the legislation, but drew concern from the free-market Institute for Economic Affairs.

“The focus on criminal sanctions for tech bosses, during a free speech clampdown in Russia, is frankly horrifying,” said Matthew Lesh, the IEA’s head of public policy.

“The planned new communications offences will force platforms to remove speech merely on the suspicion that it could cause psychological harm,” he added.

(Reporting by David Milliken, Editing by William Maclean)

You Might Like
Learn more about RevenueStripe...