Websites Face Major Fines for 'Illegal Content'

John Lister's picture

Tech giants such as Facebook could face eye watering fines or even be blocked if they don't do enough to remove "illegal content." The proposals in the United Kingdom highlight the difficultly every government faces in balancing online freedoms and responsibilities.

The measures, set out in the Online Harms Bill, would affect websites and services around the world. If it becomes law, it raises the question of whether the UK is a significant enough market that websites change their practices worldwide to avoid headaches, similar to the way many US business decided it was better to comply with tough data privacy laws in California, rather than block customers from the state.

The most notable measure in the proposals is a maximum fine of £18 million ($24 million) or 10 percent of a company's annual global revenue, whichever is higher. That would apply to websites and services which refused to remove illegal content. Internet providers in the UK could also be forced to block access to such sites. (Source:

Legal Content Could Be Affected

Controversially, the rules would also cover handling of content that was harmful but not illegal, such as misinformation that could lead to serious harm, cyber bullying, and adult content viewable by children. Sites necessarily wouldn't be forced to block or remove such content but would have to give a clear explanation of how they deal with it.

The rules would set up a three-tier approach with different requirements of different companies. The highest tier would be the largest online companies. They'd not only have to follow the rules but would also have to publish regular "transparency reports" about how they had dealt with harmful content. They would also have to publish clear criteria to say what (legal) harmful content they would allow on their sites.

Comment Sections Exempt

The second tier would cover most website and services, which would have to follow the basic rules. The third tier would be exempt from the rules. This tier would be extremely limited and could only cover comments sections on news sites and user review sections on sites operated by small businesses.

While some website companies have already expressed concern about the measures being too tough, others say they don't go far enough. The two main criticisms are the lack of criminal sanctions for breaking the rules and the fact they don't address online scams. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do the proposals strike the right balance and would you be happy to see similar rules in your country? Should websites be required to address harmful content or should it be a case of "anything legal goes"? Is it right for bigger tech companies to be under tougher requirements and larger potential fines?

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Dennis Faas's picture

It's funny - the entire time I was reading this I was thinking "What about the scammers in India that rake in hundreds of MILLIONS of dollars each year scamming people?" with their fake websites and fake 1-800 numbers. Then, in the last line of the article there was a brief mention. If I was elected President of the United States I'd send in a seal team to cut all their throats - and that's putting it nicely! If they got Osama Bin Laden they can get these scumbags, yet they practically have immunity.

Chief's picture

Draconian laws which purport to "fix" something invariably end up having unintended consequences.

If you want to keep FB, et al accountable, simply allow the ability to sue and use the courts to adjudicate.

Treat them just like magazines and newspapers.

The last thing we need is another government agency become judge, jury and executioner!

RedDawg's picture

Illegal content needs to be controlled, just look at the crap being spewed by Trump in the U.S. it may be allowed by free speech under their constitution but it also sounds like insurrection; isn't that illegal? Slitting throats of scammers? 10 to 15 years in an 8 by 10 foot cell with a toy phone sounds like a much more satisfying result!

pctyson's picture

We do NOT need powerful people that can operate with impunity to control what "is" and "what is not".
RedDawg, who decides what speech is allowed and what is not? There already is a country in this world that meets your guidelines and they are China. Our constitution provides for the ability to freely speak against our government and should that be removed we are no longer a country guided by its constitution.
The reason why we have the right to bear arms in the US is to execute this part of the constitution should it become necessary:
(from the US constitution)
"whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Please note that I AM NOT advocating an overthrow but simply stating that our founding fathers saw a future world where starting over may be necessary.

russoule's picture

this is not a site that is designed for political commentary, RedDawg, but a site designed to advance knowledge of computer problems and internet applications. So making a comment about how the current President of the USA makes statements about his election is completely off-subject.

I think Dennis' "slit their throats" comment was done in jest and frustration since a good share of his work consists of repairing the damage done by these "criminals" in India and elsewhere. It is extremely frustrating to continue to warn the user population about these scams and to have NOTHING seriously done by any government to bring them to a close. I too would string those individuals up by their toes and let them hang over an IBM 7030 running at maximum capacity to fry their brains.

Unfortunately for the governed, most decisions made about what is "legal" and what is "illegal" are made by people with "an axe to grind" and reflects their personal "That's okay" or "That's terrible". These types of laws and rules would work best if the people had an opportunity to vote on what is good and what is bad.