The UK government, like many others, is pushing for a safer Internet. Prompted by the global trend in cyber-bullying and online offensive material/trolling, the UK has taken steps to address Internet safety with the stated aim of being the safest place in the world to be online. We recently reported on the measured taken in Germany.The UK government has recently (December 2017) closed a consultation on the topic of Internet safety. It has been working with technology companies on how to make online environments safer.

Measures that were consulted on include, for social media platforms and users, a new Social Media Code of Conduct. The Code is to be developed with input from technology companies, charities, and other interested stakeholders.  Through this Code the government aims to tackle abusive online behaviours (trolling). Industry will be required to put in place specific technical solutions to make their platforms safer, including a reporting mechanism with a ‘comply or explain’ response. An annual internet safety transparency report is envisaged which would set out common metrics to enable benchmarking of reporting mechanisms. To support the initiatives and raise awareness there are plans to introduce an industry-wide levy.

These measures (including the levy) are voluntary but the government has stated that it will look to legislate if voluntary regulation does not work. There have also been hints that social media platforms may be designated as publishers (rather than intermediaries) which would bring them within the ambit of, for example, laws on defamatory/unlawful content. Recognising the critical value of advertising revenue to the platforms, the government has also stated that it will explore how advertisers’ higher expectations of online safety can translate into a greater focus on platforms to increase safety.

Because the proposed scope of the Code would apply to anyone who provides an online social media platform for use by persons in the U.K., technology companies may have little choice but to engage.