Facebook, Google execs could reportedly be liable for harmful content under UK plans

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Executives from the likes of Facebook and Google could reportedly be held liable for harmful content shared on their platforms under U.K. government plans.

Britain is set to unveil legislation on Monday that brings about a new legally-binding duty of care on social media firms to make their platforms safer, The Guardian reported, citing a leaked government document.

A white paper due to be released by the government next week will reportedly include proposals for an independent regulator with the power to dish out fines and hold company executives personally liable for breaches.

Those powers will likely initially come under Britain’s media watchdog Ofcom, the newspaper reported, before a new body is established.

The news comes as social media giants face increasing calls to clean up their platforms in the wake of the Christchurch, New Zealand mosque attack. The gunman, who killed 50 people, livestreamed the attack on Facebook, with subsequent copies of the footage being shared on YouTube and Twitter.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg this week pushed back against calls to implement a broadcast delay in the firm’s livestream feature, claiming it would “fundamentally break what livestreaming is for people.” The billionaire has recently called for stricter regulation of the internet.

Facebook referred to Zuckerberg’s comments on internet regulation when asked about the Guardian report. The U.K. government and Google were not immediately available when contacted by CNBC.

It also comes as Australia introduces tough new laws of its own targeting social media platforms. A new penalty regime in the country would see tech executives jailed for hosting violent video content — such as the New Zealand attack video — on their platforms.

Meanwhile in Britain, the suicide of teenager Molly Russell has intensified concerns over the role played by social media giants. Russell took her own life in 2017 after viewing distressing material about self-harm and suicide on Instagram. The photo-sharing app subsequently said it would ban all graphic self-harm images.

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