Tech companies will be required to protect internet users from state-sponsored misinformation that poses a threat to UK society and democracy, as part of changes to a landmark online safety bill.
The legislation will require social media platforms, video streaming services and search engines to take proactive steps to minimize people’s exposure to foreign state-sponsored disinformation aimed at interfering with the UK. Such content would include, for example, incidents such as the video of Ben Wallace being pranked earlier this year by Russian pranksters impersonating the Ukrainian prime minister.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the invasion of Ukraine underscored Russia’s willingness to use social media to spread lies and misinformation.
“We cannot allow foreign states or their puppets to use the Internet to wage hostile online warfare unhindered.“, she says. “That’s why we’re strengthening our new internet security protections to ensure social media companies identify and eliminate state-sponsored misinformation.”
A duo of Russian pranksters called Vovan and Lexus claimed responsibility for Wallace’s appeal, which took place in March. Both men were suspected of having links with the Russian security services, which they denied. A snippet of the call was posted on YouTube, but later taken down by the Google-owned video service.
The amendment will be added to the next national security bill, which will undergo parliamentary review by a committee of MPs next week. In its current form, the online safety bill, which is expected to pass by the end of the year, already requires tech companies to take action against state-sponsored misinformation that harms individuals. , such as death threats.
“Disinformation is often seeded by multiple fake personalities, with the aim of getting real users, unwittingly, and then ‘sharing’ them,” Security Minister Damian Hinds said. “We need major online platforms to do more to identify and disrupt this type of coordinated inauthentic behavior. This is what this proposal to change the law is about. »
The amendment will add a new misinformation offense to the bill’s list of priority offenses, which tech companies are required to proactively prevent. These include terrorism, child sexual abuse and fraud. Breaches of the law would be punished by communications regulator Ofcom with fines of up to £18million or 10% of a company’s global turnover, which could amount to billions of pounds for some US-based tech giants.
The Government’s amendment was announced as the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee proposed changes to the Bill which would limit the influence of the Culture Secretary in crafting new rules for technology companies. The committee’s proposed amendments remove the Secretary of State’s right to direct or prevent Ofcom from publishing codes of practice, including on dealing with terrorist and child sexual abuse content, before Parliament does not examine them.
“Free media means ensuring the regulator is free from the daily threat of executive interference,” said MP Julian Knight, Conservative chair of the committee. ‘The Government will always have an important role in setting the direction of travel, but Ofcom does not have to constantly look over its shoulder to cater to the whims of a driving Secretary of State.’