Article by Mike Wright and Charles Hymas for the Daily Telegraph - published 14 December 2021
The Duty of Care Bill must protect news publishers from having articles removed from social media sites, MPs and peers have demanded.
A joint parliamentary committee which has been examining the Government’s proposed internet laws, said bona fide journalistic content should not be removed unless it was illegal or breached a court order.
MPs said an “automatic exemption” for recognised news publishers on social media was needed to ensure the new regime protected freedom of expression. They also argued that journalism and public interest reporting were fundamental to democracy.
The call came as MPs called for online scam ads to come under the Bill, expected in the new year, and for tech executives to face strong criminal prosecution if they allow users to come to harm.
The committee has spent the past six months examining the Government’s plans to place a legal duty of care on tech companies to protect users, a move for which The Telegraph has campaigned since 2018.
Draft proposals of the law could see social media giants fined billions or even banned from the UK if they breach the regime, which will be policed by Ofcom.
In the report, MPs and peers warned that legitimate news content was often taken down by moderation algorithms that mistook it for misinformation.
They argued that by the time humans corrected these mistakes the damage had been done and that news content, which is already regulated, should be exempt from tech companies’ moderation.
The report said: “News publisher content should not be moderated, restricted or removed unless it is content the publication of which clearly constitutes a criminal offence.”
MPs said scam ads should be covered by the new laws, which currently focus only on policing non-paid for content.
They warned that in practice this meant scammers would be able to get around the regulation by placing small amounts of spend behind posts pushing fraudulent schemes to turn them into ads.
The report also called for tech executives to face strong criminal sanctions for serious breaches of their duty of care.
This included requiring companies to nominate a board member or senior executive who reports into the board as responsible for complying with the new regulations, and then creating a new law so that, if they failed, that executive would face criminal prosecution.
Following the report, Damian Collins, the committee chairman, said: “What’s illegal offline should be regulated online. For too long, big tech has got away with being the land of the lawless. A lack of regulation online has left too many people vulnerable to abuse, fraud, violence and in some cases even loss of life.
“The era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end. The companies are clearly responsible for services they have designed and profit from, and need to be held to account for the decisions they make.”
Elsewhere, MPs backed recommendations from the Law Commission earlier this year to make encouraging self-harm online a new crime. The committee argued that this would make it easier for Ofcom to force tech companies to purge their sites of such material and prevent vulnerable people from falling down online “rabbit holes”.