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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Tom Watson: State watchdog should have power to break up social media giants

Tom Watson: State watchdog should have power to break up social media giants
2 min read

A Labour government would set up a powerful watchdog with the power to order the break-up of tech giants like Facebook and Google, according to Tom Watson.

In a major speech setting out Labour's plans for regulating the social media sector, the Shadow Culture Secretary will say it is time to "steer the power of technology back towards the public interest".

Mr Watson also say tech companies should have a legal duty of care to protect young people online, with the threat of huge financial penalties if they fail.

And he will say the firms must do more to crack down on the rise of fake news, which he said was "sowing division and bringing extremism from the margins to the mainstream".

Labour's deputy leader will make the speech as the Government prepares to publish its white paper on tackling the harm that social media can do later this month.

He will say: "Competition restrictions and oversight should be modernised to match the digital market. Today, power is consolidated by large companies merging and acquiring smaller competitors,

"So future competition reviews should consider whether companies are acquiring data and patents that enable monopolisation. And the scale of the largest companies is rightly the subject of scrutiny.

"We should take seriously the calls to break them up if it is in the public interest."

Mr Watson will also point to the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, who committed suicide in 2017 after being exposed to harmful content on Instagram, as proof of the need to force tech companies to protect young users.

"New regulation must also put the protection of children at the forefront," he will say. "That’s why Labour will ensure that companies have a legal duty of care in the services they provide to children.

"The Government said yesterday that they want this too, but we need to ensure that the threshold for harm caused is not too high to offer meaningful protection and breaches of the legal duty must be met by robust penalties."

Elsewhere in his speech, the Labour frontbencher will say that the likes of Facebook and Google must do more to stop their platforms being used by "propagandists peddling bigotry and division to the disillusioned".

Under Labour, that would include forcing them to reveal who is paying for political advertising and better labelling of automatic accounts.

Mr Watson will say: "Too many platforms choose ad sales over accuracy, clickbait over credibility. We will work with civil society groups to cultivate public knowledge about disinformation, and we will deliver media literacy across our education system to support the next generation of voters."

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