Theresa May, the newly re-elected British Prime Minister spoke at a press conference on Tuesday ahead of a visit to meet with the French President Emmanuel Macron, revealing that the two countries would be working together to push a new legal liability on social media and technology companies to remove “unacceptable” content that is promoted on their platforms.
According to May, Britain and France will be working jointly with internet giants to help them create new methods to automatically remove content judged to be “extremist” by the two governments. Both leaders are determined to ensure that the internet cannot be a “safe space” for terrorists. No specific companies were mentioned, but they will probably include the likes of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, who all had already promised to crack down on this material in the wake of the Westminster terror attack back in March. They each continue to highlight that they are working on improvements, and that terrorist content has no place on their platforms.
The Prime Minister said that while the counter-terrorism co-operation between British and French intelligence was already strong, more must be done to tackle the terrorist threat online:
In the UK we are already working with social media companies to halt the spread of extremist material and poisonous propaganda that is warping young minds… The UK and France will work together to encourage corporations to do more and abide by their social responsibility to step up their efforts to remove harmful content from their networks, including exploring the possibility of creating a new legal liability for tech companies if they fail to remove unacceptable content. We are united in our total condemnation of terrorism and our commitment to stamp out this evil.
Yvette Cooper MP, the previous chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, who has in the past criticized social media companies for being slow to react when illegal content was pointed out to them, echoed her points today, applauding the Prime Minister’s announcement:
Social media companies like YouTube have been getting away with a dangerous and irresponsible approach to extremism for too long. Still today YouTube is showing illegal propaganda videos for banned jihadi and neo-Nazi extremists. They have a disgraceful disregard for the law. The cross-party Home Affairs Select Committee called for a system of fines and stronger legislation. So if that is what the British and French governments are working on now, that is really welcome. They need to make rapid progress, because online radicalisation is a very serious threat, and this problem has been growing for a long time.
However, there are already concerns that this approach may be too heavy-handed. Max Hill QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation for the government, asked if it was “absolutely necessary” for fines to be imposed due to non-compliance, explaining that the tech companies regularly co-operate with the police in their investigations, and that the real problem is the sheer “bulk of the material.”
The Home Secretary Amber Rudd is set to meet with her counterpart Gerard Collomb, the French Interior Minister, in the coming days to push the agenda forward.