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Executives of companies such as Meta, Google, Twitter and TikTok could face jail sooner than expected if they do not cooperate with British internet regulator Ofcom.

The UK government announced on Wednesday that executives could face prosecution or jail time within two months of the new online safety law coming into effect, instead of the two years previously drafted.

The online security law will be presented to lawmakers in parliament on Thursday and could become law later this year.

It aims to make it mandatory for social media services, search engines and other platforms that allow people to share their own content to protect children, tackle illegal activities and enforce their terms.

The government said on Wednesday that a series of new offenses were added to the bill that would hold senior executives at tech companies criminally liable for destroying evidence, failing to attend or providing false information in interviews with Ofcom, and obstructing the watchdog when entering company offices.

Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok have all been criticized for allowing malicious content to be shared on their platforms. They say they are doing their best to remove it, but many lawmakers are not satisfied.

“Tech companies have not been held accountable when damage, abuse and criminal behavior riot on their platforms,” UK Digital Secretary Nadine Dorries said in a statement. “Instead, they are left to their own homework.”

Dorries said the internet needs protection no different from a seat belt in a car.

“Given all the risks online, it only makes sense that we provide similar basic protections for the digital age,” Dorries said. “If we don’t act, we risk sacrificing the well-being and innocence of countless generations of children to the power of unsupervised algorithms.”

In addition to potentially prosecuting tech executives, Ofcom also has the power to fine companies up to 10% of their annual global revenue if they fail to comply with the rules. To put that into context, Meta could be fined up to $10 billion based on its 2021 revenue figures.

New recommendations included

The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport agreed to adopt 66 recommendations on the Online Safety Bill submitted by a joint committee last year. Recommendations included making online platforms accountable for activities including promoting online self-harm, extreme pornography and cyber flashing.

Damian Collins, chair of the joint committee on the draft online security law, believes the internet is a kind of “wild west” and praised the adoption of the recommendations as a “big moment” for the safety of internet users around the world.

“The Joint Commission on the Online Security Act issued a clear list of recommendations in December to strengthen the law while protecting freedom of expression and the press,” Collins said in a statement.

“I am very pleased to see that the Government has taken up so many of our recommendations so that we can ensure that the UK truly becomes the safest place in the world to be online. The era of self-regulation for Big Tech is finally coming to an end come. end.”

The bill now has to go through a formal process that every bill must go through before it becomes law. This includes giving UK legislators the opportunity to debate aspects of the legislation.

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