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Social media companies could face billions in fines for failing to fulfill their duty of care towards children and adults.

As part of the long-awaited and long-debated UK Online Damage Act, strict guidelines will be put in place to cover harmful material such as child sexual abuse, terrorist material, anti-vax conspiracies and more.

The regulator Ofcom can fine platforms with a fine of up to £ 18m or 10 percent of global annual sales, whichever is greater. In the case of Facebook, which posted a profit of $ 71 billion last year, that could mean a fine of more than $ 7 billion.

And while the government has stopped introducing criminal sanctions for individual executives, it could still do so if organizations fail to properly comply with the new rules.

The legislation applies to all organizations that host user-generated content that can be accessed by users in the UK or that allow users to interact privately or publicly on the internet e.g. B. Search engines, social media or messaging platforms, dating apps and video games have chat services.

The bill is generally welcomed.

“The long-awaited online claims account is a unique opportunity to address these dangerous elements of the Internet that have real consequences,” said Jo Stevens, shadow secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport.

“We need the government to take this seriously, whether it’s hate speech, disinformation or self-harming content. The internet should be a safe place for everyone, and this legislation needs to be ambitious in scope.”

And Anne Longfield, England Child Representative, says: “The signs are that this ordinance will have teeth, including tough penalties for businesses for failing to do their job and a requirement for messaging apps, child abuse identification and use technologies . ” Exploitation material at the direction of the regulator. ”

However, she added, “Much will be based on the details behind these announcements, which we will look into.”

And some believe it doesn’t go far enough. For example, online fraud is not included and many activists, including the NSPCC, have advocated criminal sanctions against managers.

Meanwhile, Full Fact executive director Will Moy warns, “Parliament must scrutinize these proposed laws very carefully. They must be reconciled with protecting people’s freedom of expression, and the fight against misinformation should not simply be turned over to government. appointed regulator. ”

The government says the bill will be presented to parliament next year, although it may not be incorporated into law until 2022.