Social media giants face multi-million pound fines if they fail to ban children’s accounts

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

By Michelle Donelan, Culture Secretary

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 it is in a family or in society, freedom of expression and the right to disagree are the bedrock of a healthy community. So why should we let the online world be any different?

I don’t think it’s too much to ask that these fundamental British values ​​are reflected online. But it’s difficult when social media companies have the financial clout of small countries and when CEOs have all the power of presidents without the accountability. So we need to make it clear that our values ​​and our lifestyle will be determined by us, not Silicon Valley.

Next week, one of the most important building blocks of a safer, freer and more user-friendly online world will return to Parliament. I have carefully amended the Cybersecurity Act to ensure it reflects the values ​​of our way of life – protecting children, protecting the vulnerable, protecting lawful free speech and defending consumer choice.

Protecting children is the fundamental reason why the Online Safety Bill was created, and therefore the changes I have made significantly strengthen the child protection elements of the Bill. Although debates surrounding free speech have dominated the conversation, its original purpose was to protect young people like Molly Russell. In 2017, the 14-year-old took his own life after being bombarded with self-harm content on Instagram and Pinterest.

So when I became digital secretary, I drew a red line on the child protection measures in the bill, promising to protect and strengthen them. When it returns, the bill will include even stronger protections for children, combined with protections for adult user rights that inject real choice for users.

Technology companies must protect children from a range of harmful content – ​​including child sexual abuse, pornography and cyberbullying. If they fail, they will face huge fines of up to 10 percent of their annual global turnover. For Meta, it would currently be up to $12 billion.

I have also strengthened the legislation to help tackle the absurd situation we have with age limits. Some platforms claim they don’t allow anyone under 13 – any parent will tell you that’s bullshit. Some platforms claim that they do not 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 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 abide by their own terms and conditions, and the government shouldn’t be in the business of telling adults what legal content they can view.

The “lawful but harmful” clauses in the bill violated, in my view, the right of adults to choose what legal speech they say and see. So I’ve removed “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 far more transparent about how their algorithms work and, for the first time, users will have the right to complain. Leaders in Silicon Valley will no longer be able to arbitrarily silence people, nor continue to treat certain segments of society differently.

Instead of dictating to tech companies what legal speech they should and shouldn’t police on their sites, we’re putting control back in the hands of users, while ensuring that social media companies no longer put profits before children’s lives. Alongside this, where it is demonstrably obvious that something should be illegal, we should make it illegal. Thanks to a change announced on Tuesday, we will close the legal loopholes that allow the horrific encouragement of self-harm.

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

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