October 10, 2017 / 11:15 PM / 9 days ago

UK proposes internet firm levy with web safety plan

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain published proposals on Wednesday for a levy on social media firms and internet providers to help fund its online safety strategy, designed to tackle bullying, abuse and other risks for children and vulnerable users.

Karen Bradley, Britain's Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, leaves a cabinet meeting in Downing Street, London September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

Prime Minister Theresa May and her ministers have been critical of firms like Twitter, Facebook, and Google, repeatedly calling on them to do more to stop the spread of extremist content online and help victims of abuse.

May first promised a levy on “social media companies and communication service providers” in her 2017 election manifesto.

On Wednesday, digital minister Karen Bradley published proposals for an Internet Safety Strategy including the levy, a code of practice on removing intimidating or humiliating content from social media, and online safety classes in schools.

“The internet has been an amazing force for good, but it has caused undeniable suffering and can be an especially harmful place for children and vulnerable people,” Bradley said in a statement.

“We need an approach to the internet that protects everyone without restricting growth and innovation in the digital economy.”

The government proposal, which invites views from the industry before being formulated into legislation, said the levy would initially be sought on a voluntary basis.

“We may then seek to underpin this levy in legislation, to ensure the continued and reliable operation of the levy,” the document said. “The levy will not be a new tax on social media.”

It likened the proposed levy to an existing one paid on a voluntary basis by the gambling sector to fund charitable work.

Social media firms have typically been exempt from regulatory fees that can apply to communication services.

Recently-passed laws in Germany give social media networks 24 hours to delete or block obviously criminal content and seven days to deal with less clear-cut cases.

Reporting by William James; editing by Stephen Addison

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