Online platforms would be required to take 'robust action' against content that risks interfering with legal proceedings under government proposals for regulating the web. Failure to act could result in websites being blocked from the UK by a regulator enforcing a statutory duty of care, under the white paper on Online Harms published today.
The long-awaited proposals, from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, aim to remove what are described as the shortcomings of the current regulatory landscape in the face of growing concerns ranging from cyberbullying to terrorist recruitment. Such shortcomings include protection from legal liability until web platforms have either actual knowledge of illegal content 'or are aware of facts or circumstances from which it would have been apparent that it was unlawful and had failed to act expeditiously'.
While individuals can in principle obtain remedies against harm by negligent businesses, such legal actions can face difficulties, the paper states. It is currently difficult to establish the company's duty of care to the person bringing the claim, showing a causal link between their activities and harm caused, or obtaining factual evidence.
The proposed regulatory model 'will provide evidence and set standards which may increase the effectiveness of individuals' existing legal remedies'.
At the centre of the propsals is a new duty of care to take 'reasonable steps' to keep users safe and to tackle illegal and harmful activity. It will be enforced by an independent regulator, which will set out codes of practice for companies. This could either be an existing regulator - Ofcom would be a 'strong candidate' - or a new body. It will cover online businesses of all sizes, including social media companies, public discussion forums and non-profit organisations.
The regulator will have 'an obligation to protect users’ rights online, particularly rights to privacy and freedom of expression'. It would be funded by 'fees, charges or a levy on companies whose services are in scope'.