Jeremy Wright says social media firms could face criminal sanctions over harmful online content
Culture secretary Jeremy Wright has said social media firms face criminal sanctions if they fail to protect users from harmful content, ahead of a visit to the US on the issue of internet safety.
Next week Wright will head to the US with digital minister Margot James, where he expects to meet "senior people" at the large tech firms, including Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.
When asked by the BBC whether the government would introduce criminal sanctions in its white paper, due to be released next month, Wright said: “We will consider all possible options for penalties.
“It’s important that those companies understand that there are meaningful sanctions available to us if they don’t do what they should."
Read more: Social media sites told to take legal responsibility for child safety
Wright's comments echo that of former culture secretary Matt Hancock, who warned recently that sites such as Instagram-owner Facebook could be banned if they failed to act over harmful images online. The warnings came in the wake of the death of teenager Molly Russell, who viewed images of self harm on Instagram before taking her own life.
“The British government will come to its own conclusions about what is exactly necessary to keep our citizens safe," Wright said. "There’s no doubt that we can’t any longer rely on the internet companies to do it for themselves.
Read more: Hancock: Social media firms face ban if they fail to remove harmful content
“We need to take action as a government and we want to do that. We need a good design. I want to make sure the design is right."
Internet companies have been criticised in the past for failing to take the issue seriously. Last year only four of the 14 biggest tech companies took up the government's invitation to a meeting about improving online behaviour, Hancock said at the time.