UK considers fining social media companies failing to remove hate content

Theresa May has repeatedly spoken out against firms like Facebook and Twitter saying they should do more to stamp out extremism and hate speech

MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 06: British Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on public life to mark the centenary of women's suffrage in the UK on February 6, 2018 in Manchester, United Kingdom. On February 6, 1918, the Representation of People Act was passed which allowed women to vote for the first time in the United Kingdom. (Paul Ellis - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
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Britain could follow the lead of Germany and introduce a law that ensures social media companies move swiftly to remove hate speech or face large fines, lawmakers were told on Tuesday.

A panel of experts told members of parliament that they backed regulation of large tech companies saying they had not done enough to remove abusive messages online.

The German law, which came into force this year, gives networks 24 hours to bring down material that breaks the law. The law is targeted at social networks and media sites with two million members and they face fines of €50 million if they fail to remove obviously illegal posts.

A committee of lawmakers is considering what action that the UK can take amid concerns over hate crime and the proliferation of extremist material online. The MPs highlighted the case of Darren Osborne, jailed last week for murdering a man leaving his mosque, who became radicalised online in weeks after developing a hatred of Muslims.

“It took decades for anti-trust legislation to deal with industrial monopolies,” said Yvette Cooper, the chair of the committee. “We can’t wait decades to deal with these sorts of concerns.”

Academics told the committee that hate speech was a law priority for organisations like Facebook compared with other areas of contention. “In the case of intellectual property you have industrialised pressure,” Damian Tambini, of the London School of Economics, told the MPs. “In terms of hate speech, they don’t have the same incentives.”

The all-party committee system is an influential player in setting policy but its reports and recommendations are non-binding.

The parliamentary hearing came as Theresa May, the prime minister, warned that social media abuse was threatening democracy. She said abuse online was deterring some women from seeking public office.

The European Union has also published guidelines calling on social media sites to spot hate speech quicker and remove it.