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UK government could police social media with internet regulator

Social networks would have to enforce age verification and sign a compulsory code of conduct.

Evening Big Ben (Dusk)

The UK is considering regulating social media.

Ian.CuiYi/Getty Images

The British government could be preparing to set up an internet regulator that would police the actions of social networks and sanction them if they failed to comply with rules.

Buzzfeed News reported on Thursday that it had obtained details of government proposals, which form part of legislation currently being drafted ahead of an official announcement later this year. One of the main purposes of the regulator would be to ensure illegal content is removed from online platforms quickly to prevent it spreading.

Social media giants struggle with fake news, privacy issues, abuse and terrorist content, and countries around the world have debated whether better regulation and oversight could force the companies involved to take more urgent action.

Many big tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, have already signed up to a voluntary EU code of conduct pledging to remove illegal content, and at the beginning of this year Germany introduced a new law against hate speech, under which it can fine online platforms for not taking action to combat problematic content. But the UK could be one of the first countries to put a regulator in place to govern the internet.

A spokesman for the government confirmed to CNET that the government is currently drawing up a white paper, which will be released this winter "setting out new laws to tackle the full range of online harms and set clear responsibilities for tech companies to keep UK citizens safe." The government is set to consult with the wider tech industry while drawing up the legislation, to ensure that the internet is safe for users while trying not to stifle innovation.

The idea of a regulator for the internet is being discussed as part of these plans, but doesn't appear to be a sure thing at this stage.

"We are considering all options, including what legislation will be necessary and whether a regulator is needed," said the spokesman.

The regulator would run separately to Ofcom, the UK's broadcasting and telecoms regulator, but would be run in a similar way, according to Buzzfeed. It would require social media companies to sign up to a compulsory code of conduct and insist on more rigorous age verification to ensure services aren't used by people under the age of 13.

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