UK prime minister Theresa May demanded social responsibility for tech companies to filter illegal content, she said on Thursday afternoon.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, May demanded social responsibility, saying that companies are partially responsible when their platforms are used to facilitate child abuse, modern slavery, or the spreading of terrorist or extremist content. Since last year, May has stood against the perpetuation of terrorist content on tech platforms.
May became leader of the UK Conservative Party in 2016––and Prime Minister, subsequently. Thereafter, she has spoken at the G7 summit and elsewhere on the importance of disallowing online extremism.
In her speech Thursday, May demanded social responsibility, but praised the continuing cooperation between governments and tech firms to remove terrorist content and prevent its online publication. However, May said, “Technology companies still need to do more in stepping up to their responsibilities for dealing with harmful and illegal online activity.”
May demanded social responsibility by extending a call to action to government leaders and ministers in her Davos audience, urging them to take further measures. “We need to go further, so that ultimately this content is removed automatically,” May said.
Earlier this month, the European Commission warned tech firms of potential EU-level legislature to enforce rigorous filtering. As the push to use automatic detection to quickly remove illegal online content increases, critics claim these measures threaten freedom of speech.
Last year, Germany instated a law regulating social media hate speech. The law requires social media platforms to remove hateful content within 24 hours. As a consequence for not complying, platforms can face up to €50 million in fines.
The EC nodded to social media leaders Facebook, Google and Twitter for making “steady progress” in their third review. The likelihood of forced legislation for those media giants looks less likely as a result.
Thursday, May used her speaking opportunity to chide messaging app company Telegram.
“Smaller platforms can quickly become home to criminals and terrorists,” she said. “We have seen that happen with Telegram, and we need to see more co-operation from smaller platforms like this. No one wants to be known as the terrorists’ platform. Or the first choice app for pedophiles.”
Telegram founder Pavel Durov, who attended the Davos forum, has previously criticized government efforts to regulate messaging apps. “Politicians often try to score points by blaming encrypted messaging apps for all the evils of modern society,” Durov wrote in a retweeted blog post from last year.
After calling Telegram out specifically, May encouraged government leaders to examine laws relating to social media platforms. Calling it “legal liability,” May said, “The status quo is increasingly unsustainable as it becomes clear these platforms are no longer just passive hosts.”
May advocated a forward-looking perspective in governmental regulations, pleading with leaders to “consider what is most appropriate for the modern economy.” Turning to shareholders, May encouraged investors to apply pressure toward tech companies to embrace their social responsibility.
“Investors can make a big difference here by ensuring trust and safety issues are being properly considered and I urge them to do so,” May said.
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