Social media giants should be fined or face prosecution if they fail to remove racist, extremist or paedophile content, a committee will say tomorrow.
Under the proposals the firms would be treated as publishers – which means they could be hauled before the courts of they fail to remove criminal content.
The proposed overhaul, put forward by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, comes amid growing alarm that tech companies are failing to do enough to take down criminal content.
A fresh investigation out today has accused Twitter of letting paedophiles openly discuss their sick fantasies online without acting against them.
Theresa May’s (pictured in the Commons yesterday) ethics watchdog will reportedly call for a legal overhaul so firms like Twitter and Facebook can be held liable for the hate and offensive content posted on their platforms.
While Twitter, YouTube and Facebook have all been heavily criticised by politicians for letting extremist terror material stay online after they have been alerted to it.
Currently social media firms are treated as communication platforms which means they are not held responsible for the material posted on their platforms – even though millions of people view them daily.
But under the shake-up they would be reclassified as publishers and held to the same – much higher – standards as newspapers.
The report,which will be published tomorrow, does not spell out exactly what legal punishments social media firms who flout the new rules will be hit by.
But lawyers told The Times the punishments that could be dished out under the change would include prosecution if firms failed to comply with the new rules.
Ministers are already looking at drawing up a compulsory code of conduct for social media firms amid the growing concern that they are not doing enough to take down offensive content.
Lord Bew (pictured in the House of Lords last month), the peer who chairs the committee, has previously spoken about the the frustrated efforts to tackle abuse online.
Lord Bew, the peer who chairs the committee, has previously spoken about the the frustrated efforts to tackle abuse online.
He said: ‘There is a degree of frustration in our committee about what’s actually been done, given the very vast resources of these companies, to protect the integrity of our democracy.
‘We are less than hugely impressed by what they have done.’
Tony Jaffa, a partner at the law firm Foot Anstey, told the newspaper the overhaul could see firms be brought before civil and criminal courts.
He said: ‘If this recommendation is accepted the tech companies will become liable for material that is published on their websites.
‘They will have to significantly change procedures to remove content or face civil action.
‘If the posting also contravenes a domestic criminal law such as harassment or incitement to racial hatred then it could mean criminal prosecution too.’
Theresa May has made tackling online error material a key mission of her premiership and launched a joint drive with the French to crack down on it.
At a summit in September she told internet firms to take terror material down within two hours or face fines.