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UK considers social media levy to fund digital literacy education

The government may introduce a levy on social media firms to pay for educational programmes that teach young people digital literacy skills and help them spot fake news according to the Culture Secretary.

Jeremy Wright told MPs investigating online disinformation that firms like Facebook had admitted that the current ‘status quo’ was not working and action needed taking.

The new plans follow a series of recommendations from the Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee where they called for a levy in addition to greater transparency for users presented with online political advertising and updates to the UK’s electoral policies.

“Digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, writing and maths,” the recommendations state.

“The social media educational levy should be used, in part, by the government, to finance this additional part of the curriculum.”

Wright told the committee that a white paper due to be released in the winter would look at a wide range of actions to be taken.

“I do think that it is important that it (a levy) is one of the options that we look at,” he said.

“Of course we can look at a levy to fund a number of things. We can look at it to fund education, we can also look at it to fund a regulator if we considered a regulator is necessary.”

Wright was responding to questions regarding the actions of Russia and others around elections in the UK and abroad.

Asked by chairman Damian Collins whether he agreed that it “shouldn’t be down to the taxpayer to fund this”, he added: “If we are still talking about the threat to our democracy, to our national security, via hostile foreign states then there is a dimension of that where the cost needs to be borne by the taxpayer because that is part of the job of the state defending itself.

“If, on the other hand, we are talking about online harms more broadly then I think there is a role for us to think about for social media companies and other online presences to work out how this extra activity should be funded.

“It’s one of the options worth considering, and in the end if there is more activity it has got to be paid for somehow.”

He added that the white paper would include proposals for legislation to be introduced to Parliament to beef up the powers of an existing regulator, or create a new one, if that was deemed necessary.

Earlier this month Facebook said it would require UK political parties and interest groups to verify their identity and location in order to place adverts on its site in an effort to crack down on ‘dark ads’. 

Last week technology giants Google, Facebook and Twitter told MPs they would not oppose the introduction of a regulator to monitor their platforms.

Karim Palant, Facebook’s public policy manager in the UK, told the Commons’ Science and Technology Committee: “Our chief executives have talked about the fact that some regulations are going to be inevitable.”

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