Overwhelming majority back jail for social media bosses who fail to protect children, poll finds

Mike Wright
The NSPCC is calling social media executive for be made personally liable for safeguarding failures - PA

Social media bosses should face jail if they fail to protect children the majority of people have said, as the Government considers criminal offences for tech firms.

A ComRes poll for the NSPCC showed that 77 percent back criminal prosecution for gross breaches of child safety.

The survey of more than 2,000 people also found 85 percent wanted tech companies to face corporate prosecution over safeguarding failures.

The polling comes as the Government is weighing up a range powers to for new online regulator to make the internet safer.

Peter Wanless, NSPCC Chief Executive, said: “The Government’s pledge to bring in independent statutory regulation of social networks is hugely significant but, for effective enforcement, it is vital the regulator has teeth.

“These latest figures show there is overwhelming support for both corporate and individual criminal liability in cases where tech companies significantly fail to protect children from harm.

“We urge the Government to take this crucial opportunity and decide on legislation that will make tech firms feel the full weight of the law if they fail in their duty of care to children.”

Social media companies have faced a barrage of criticism in recent months for failing to protect users, particularly children, from harm.

Earlier this year father Ian Russell accused Instagram of "helping to kill" his 14-year-old daughter Molly, after she took her life after viewing self-harm and suicide images on the site.

Following his intervention Instagram announced it was banning graphic self-harm images from its platform.

However, other victims of online abuses have called for tough measures to ensure tech giants address issues before serious harm takes place.

Danielle Armitage, who was groomed on a social network by a 49-year-old man when she was 14, said: “Things need to change. I help my partner care for his two girls who spend time on the internet. I am scared for their safety, even though we put all the parental controls in place to protect them.

“It is important that social networks put in protective measures that will stop abuse from happening in the first place and not just reacting once it’s already begun.”

Earlier this month the Government unveiled its online harms white paper, which outlined plans to impose a statutory duty of care on tech firms to better protect users.

The duty of care, a measure campaigned for by the Telegraph, will be enforced by a code of conduct and an as yet undecided regulator.

Among the sanctions proposed for the regulator are the ability to impose hefty fines that could stretch into the billions and blocking sites that fail to comply.

The Government is also considering forcing tech companies to name senior executives who could face personal liability for civil fines and potentially criminal liability.

At the launch of the white paper, Home Secretary Sajid Javid, said such measures were “tough” but “in keeping with the seriousness of the issue”.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid said tech giants had  'failed to protect our children' Credit: PA/Aaron Chown

Speaking of the tech companies, he added: “They had their chance to put their own house in order. They failed to do so, they failed to protect our children, and I won’t let them fail us again.”

The white paper is currently undergoing a three month consultation, in which tech companies will be able to have their say on the plans.

After the consultation the Government will have three months to respond before then presenting a bill to Parliament.

Daniel Dyball, UK Executive Director of the Internet Association which represents tech companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, said: “The government is consulting on a range of enforcement powers, and we must be careful to ensure that any penalties are proportionate, balanced and do not put at risk the services the internet delivers for people across the country.

“But before we look at compliance, it is vital that we get the rules themselves right in the first place, and there is a huge amount of work left to do to reasonably define which services are covered by regulation, what a duty of care means in practice, and even how to define ‘online harms’.

“The internet industry is committed to working with the government to make the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online - while ensuring we have an internet sector that carries on producing significant benefits for the economy and society.”