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Social media firms could face fines if banned users set up new accounts

Image credit: Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

Social media companies could face fines if they cannot demonstrate to regulator Ofcom that they are preventing people who have been banned for abusive behaviour from setting up new accounts.

A report from the cross-party Petitions Committee calls for the government to bolster the Online Safety Bill with extra duties for social media companies.

The committee also wants the bill to challenge the attitudes that fuel such behaviour and ensure abusive users face legal sanctions where appropriate.

“Social media platforms should be required to give users the option to link their account to a form of verified ID on a voluntary basis and block interactions with unverified users, as a way of tackling abuse posted from anonymous or ‘throwaway’ accounts,” the report said.

It suggested that firms should demonstrate they have taken proportionate steps to protect adult users from the risk of facing legal but harmful abuse on their platforms.

The long-delayed Online Safety Bill was finally published in draft form in May last year, and it includes the potential for significant fines for companies that fail to deal with online abuse.

Under the legislation, senior executives could also face criminal prosecution and some websites could be blocked.

But in December, MPs called for greater clarification on what content is illegal and also proposed expanding the scope of the bill to include online flashing, paid-for scam and fraudulent advertising, content promoting self-harm, and deliberately sending flashing images to people with photosensitive epilepsy.

The Petitions Committee also believes the government should assess whether the police and prosecutors have the resources they need to effectively investigate and enforce new online abuse laws.

The Committee’s chair, Catherine McKinnell MP, said: “Online abuse is a silent menace, and this report sets out our recommendations to help tackle the enormous harm it causes and ensure perpetrators face appropriate consequences for their actions.

“We spoke to school students across the country who told us they felt that experiencing online abuse is simply a normal part of being online. This is incredibly alarming, and highlights how important it is that we address this issue.

“Even where abuse may not reach a criminal threshold, it can still significantly impact people who receive it, including not just their health but also their ability to express themselves freely online. Social media platforms should be taking proactive steps to create safer online spaces for all.”

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