UK Moves To Give Regulators Power To Fine Internet Companies 5% Of Revenue If They Can't Wave A Magic Wand And Make Bad Content Disappear

While in theory the UK is supposed to be leaving the EU soon, it’s still technically a part of it, and now appears to be implementing the AVMSD (Audiovisual Media Services Directive) which was agreed to last year. One section of the agreement talks about “protection of minors” and like pretty much all “think of the children” type regulations, it’s full of moral panics and impossible demands. While the Directive looks like it was designed for professionally broadcast content, apparently the UK has determined that it should apply to all online video, and the UK Parliament “quietly approved” a plan to give its media regulatory body, Ofcom, the power to fine social media companies up to 5% of their revenue if they can’t magically make stuff that “might seriously impair” minors disappear from the internet.

Of course, content that “might seriously impair” minors seems widely open to interpretation — which almost certainly means over-censorship. But, it appears that Ofcom doesn’t think it’s a big deal at all:

“These new rules are an important first step in regulating video-sharing online, and we’ll work closely with the government to implement them,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.

“We also support plans to go further and legislate for a wider set of protections, including a duty of care for online companies towards their users.”

Duty of care is the standard that gets tossed around a lot in these discussions, and it’s basically a standard that guarantees significant and regular censorship, because under a duty of care, making mistakes — which are inevitable — in terms of leaving up content that should be taken down, leads to massive liability. Of course, there is no penalty for the flip side. That is, if you take down content that should have been left up, there are no penalties at all. So, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens: sites vastly over-censor, taking down lots of content that should be left up, because there is no regulatory punishment for doing so — whereas missing a video that should have been taken down is such a huge risk that most companies won’t bother.

And don’t go blaming the EU for this. Should the UK actually complete the whole Brexit thing, it doesn’t sound like this will change. After all, the UK has been working on its own “harmful content” regulation that would end up doing much the same thing, perhaps on an even wider scale.
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