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UK to fine tech companies that fail to remove self-harm material

As part of a revision to the law governing online behavior, the government of Britain plans to make it illegal to encourage others to harm themselves online and will fine social media companies that fail to remove such content.

Although it is already against the law to promote suicide, the digital, culture, media, and sport ministry of Britain stated in a statement that it now wants to mandate that social media companies block a wider range of content.

Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan stated, “Social media firms can no longer remain silent bystanders and they’ll face fines for allowing this abusive and destructive behavior to continue on their platforms under our laws.”

The proposals, according to the Conservative government, aimed to block images and videos similar to those viewed by 14-year-old Molly Russell, whose death in 2017 sparked ongoing public concern.

The coroner who was looking into her death decided in September that social media platforms had provided her with content that “romanticized acts of self-harm by young people.”

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Companies that operate social media platforms will be required, in accordance with the proposals, to limit or remove content that is intended to encourage users to commit self-harm.

The government announced last week that the new law would also prohibit the distribution of sexually explicit images that have been altered to appear to feature an individual who has not consented to appear in them.

When legislative amendments are presented to parliament next month, complete details of the most recent proposals, including the magnitude of fines imposed on businesses and the criminal penalties imposed on individuals who promote self-harm, will be provided.

Since its initial draft was published in May 2021, the Online Safety Bill—a larger piece of legislation that includes such penalties—has had a sluggish passage through parliament.

The definition of “legal but harmful” in earlier versions was criticized as being too vague and could arbitrarily criminalize otherwise legal behavior by tech companies and free speech advocates.

Children’s and mental health charities, as well as people who want to curb racist and sexist online abuse, have backed the bill strongly.

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