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Social platforms like Gab and 4Chan could face huge fines for misinformation spread

Image credit: Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Niche social media platforms like Gab, 4Chan and Telegram have been described as “deeply problematic” due to the amount of misinformation they carry, including broad scepticism over the coronavirus vaccine.

Sarah Connolly, who works as director of security and online harms for the UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), was asked by MPs how she planned to tackle the platforms' propensity to spread falsehoods.

“There are platforms out there that are niche, that are small, that are deeply problematic, both in the way that they behave and the content that they have,” she said

“Just to be crystal clear, anything that has user-generated content is in-scope, so they will not be exempted and if it is available in the UK, it is also in-scope, so even if they’re based elsewhere.

“You are quite right that they are problematic and some of them take a view that they simply will not talk to governments about anything and others will take the view that they will talk to governments and they will seek to remove things that are clearly illegal but not issues that are sort of legal but harmful – and I would include disinformation obviously in that space.”

The Government is introducing an Online Safety Bill next year that could see firms being levied multimillion-pound fines for failing to protect users or remove harmful content.

Ofcom will be granted the power to fine companies up to £18m or 10 per cent of global turnover if they are deemed to be in breach.

But the problem isn’t limited to these niche platforms, with sites like TikTok also being told they are not doing enough to curtail anti-vaccination posts.

John Nicolson MP told the Chinese-run social media site that its system of content moderation “wasn’t working” and that misinformation was “rampant” on the video-sharing app.

“We’re in the middle of a worldwide pandemic – 1.7 million people have died, that’s 66,000 in the UK alone. At last we’ve got a vaccine and yet you allow anti-vaccination fanatics to spread lies on your platform, why?” Nicolson said, speaking to the app’s European director of government relations and public policy, Theo Bertram.

As an example, he cited one account with more than 38,000 followers that frequently posted videos containing falsehoods about the vaccine.

Earlier this year, Facebook employed an army of third-party fact checkers to debunk false claims related to the coronavirus.

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