WEB giants could be fined millions for exposing kids to danger under new plans proposed by the official children’s watchdog.
Today the Children’s Commissioner published a “legal duty of care” which could be applied to social media firms.
It came as Labour’s deputy leader lashed Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg as an “arrogant coward”.
Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, is urging ministers to take action against internet companies for endangering kids’ mental health.
She wants them to threaten huge fines against companies which let their users down.
Penalties could be as high as four per cent of their turnover – which would amount to hundreds of millions of pounds for the largest firms.
Ms Longfield’s code of conduct was drawn up by privacy law specialists Schillings.
It was partly inspired by the death of Molly Russell, who killed herself after being exposed to self-harm images on Instagram.
The Children’s Commissioner said: “There is no longer any excuse for delay and the tragic case of Molly Russell should be a spur for real action.
“If a magazine publisher put together 100 pages of pictures of children openly showing off self-inflicted scars and gave them away free in supermarkets to anyone who wanted one, there would be outrage.
There’s no excuse for delay
“If a TV channel pumped out images glorifying suicide round the clock, it would be shut down by Ofcom. Yet this content is easily available on every laptop, tablet and phone for any child, of any age.”
Calling for legally binding rules on the tech giants, Ms Longfield added: “There will be sanctions for when the duty is broken… these will include fines, and they must be significant.
“But even more importantly, in a world where the largest of these companies are able to easily absorb financial penalties, they must be made to admit publicly when they are failing to protect children.
“That would mean posting information about the breach on their platform for all users to see, including the details of the complaint, the size of their fine and what action they will be taking to correct their mistake.”
NSPCC safety boss Andy Burrows said: “We urgently need an independent regulator that can enforce a statutory duty of care for children on online platforms, and it is vital the Government does not miss this opportunity to get it right and tackle the Wild West Web once and for all.”
Labour’s Tom Watson today laid out his own plans for a crackdown on the web giants.
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He called for a digital regulator with the power to impose large fines on companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
And he blasted Mr Zuckerberg for refusing to give evidence to the House of Commons – saying: “He’s an arrogant corporate elite and he’s a coward – and he should be sitting in front of that committee and answering the questions that our democratic institutions need to know.”
Ministers have promised to lay out their plans for fresh regulation within a matter of weeks.