Social media companies that breach “duty of care” laws designed to keep children safe online could face criminal investigation and unlimited fines, under proposals due to be outlined by the NSPCC.
Firms that do not introduce measures to protect children from harm such as sexual abuse, bullying and self-harm could be prosecuted for a breach of their duty of care, if legislation suggested by the children’s charity is accepted into law.
The Daily Telegraph reports that companies will have to appoint named executives to be personally responsible for upholding duty of care.
If they are found to be in breach of the rules, they could be banned from directorial roles for up to 15 years, in line with current disqualification rules.
The NSPCC’s head of online child safety Andy Burrows said legislation is needed to keep children safe.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “Unless we have regulation that is capable of protecting children in the way we know is necessary, then we will see further tragedies with children coming to harm.”
Last week, Instagram announced it would ban graphic images of self-harm from its platform after the father of a teenager who took her own life told the BBC the social network “helped kill my daughter”.
Molly Russell died in 2017 aged 14. Her family found material relating to depression and suicide when they looked at her Instagram account after her death.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock praised the photo-sharing service’s decision but said there is “more to do” to keep the site safe.
Speaking after a meeting with the app’s bosses last Thursday, Mr Hancock said: “What happened to Molly Russell is every parent’s modern nightmare.
“I am glad Instagram have committed to me that they will now take down graphic self-harm and suicide content. I’ll keep working to make the internet safe for all.
“But there’s more to do in terms of being clear what material’s up there and making sure that the behaviour of the site follows the best medical evidence.”
The Samaritans operate a round-the-clock freephone service 365 days a year for people who want to talk in confidence. They can be contacted by phone on 116 123 or by visiting samaritans.org.