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UK will insist tech firms protect customers from other governments' lies

by on12 July 2022

British Government lies should be OK

Tech firms will be required to shield internet users from state-sponsored disinformation posing a threat to UK society and democracy, under changes to a landmark online safety bill.

Basically, this means that tech companies will have to examine their sites for fake news planted by foreign governments to inspire them to do or believe stupid things.

The legislation will require social media platforms, video streaming services and search engines to take action to minimise people’s exposure to foreign state-backed disinformation aimed at interfering with the UK.

Such content would, for instance, include incidents such as the video of Ben Wallace being prank-called earlier this year by Russian hoaxers pretending to be the Ukrainian prime minister. Although to be fair, that was a prank call and not quite the same thing as funding right-wing groups or supporting Brexit.

The culture secretary, Nadine Dorries, said the Ukraine invasion had underlined Russia’s willingness to use social media to spread lies and disinformation. Given that the UK Government tends to spread lies and disinformation over issues like Christmas parties, this seems to be a demarkation issue.

“We cannot allow foreign states or their puppets to use the internet to conduct hostile online warfare unimpeded,” she said without adding “that is our job.”

The amendment will be added to the forthcoming national security bill, which undergoes parliamentary scrutiny by a committee of MPs next week. In its current form the online safety bill, which is expected to pass into law by the end of the year, already requires tech firms to take action on state-sponsored disinformation that harms individuals – such as threats to kill.

“Disinformation is often seeded by multiple fake personas, with the aim of getting real users, unwittingly, then to ‘share’ it,” said security minister Damian Hinds. “We need the big online platforms to do more to identify and disrupt this sort of coordinated inauthentic behaviour. That is what this proposed change in the law is about.”

The amendment will add a new disinformation offence to the list of priority offences in the bill, which tech firms are required to prevent proactively. These include terrorism, child sexual abuse and fraud offences. Breaches of the act would be punished by the communications regulator, Ofcom, with fines of up to £18 million or 10 per cent of a company’s global turnover, which could run into billions of pounds for some of the US-based tech giants.


Last modified on 12 July 2022
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