Social media firms will be required to remove content facilitating animal torture under the upcoming UK online safety laws.
An amendment was tabled in Parliament on Friday, mandating social media platforms to crack down on content that encourages or facilitates animal torture.
The amendment was proposed by Labour peer Baroness Gillian Merron, after a campaign to include animal torture in the Online Safety Bill.
On Thursday, the UK government prioritized section 4(1) (unnecessary suffering) of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 as an offense in the Bill.
Animal Torture Content
That means that animal torture content will now be classified in the bill as a priority offense, along with other types of content such as child sexual abuse, threats to kill, and revenge pornography that social media companies must remove or face significant fines.
The BBC discovered that hundreds of customers in the United States, UK, and other countries paid individuals in Indonesia to film the torture and killing of baby long-tailed macaques.
The government stated that The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 now “imposes some of the harshest penalties in Europe.”
It explained that maximum sentences for the most severe animal cruelty cases have been increased from six months to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.
Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan stated that this “kind of activity is deeply disturbing and should not be tolerated in a nation that values animal welfare like the UK.”
“Social media sites should not be used as platforms to promote the sadistic and harrowing actions of depraved internet users. Today, we are taking steps to ensure that such content is swiftly removed to protect both animals and users.
“The Online Safety Bill will make the UK the safest place in the world for children online, and it will now also address the proliferation of animal abuse.”
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey added that “the UK has some of the highest animal welfare standards globally.”
“Animal abuse is abhorrent and should not circulate online, so these new rules will ensure that social media platforms act promptly to remove this content.”
The bill, currently in its final stages, will empower Ofcom, the communications regulator traditionally responsible for regulating TV, radio, fixed-line and mobile phones, and postal services, to regulate the internet.
The largest social media platforms will need to conduct risk assessments on potential harms on their platforms and outline methods to address them in their terms of service.
A provision in the upcoming online safety laws that would have allowed regulators access to private messages sent using end-to-end encryption will not be enforced.
During the House of Lords debate, Lord Moylan expressed concern that the Bill “does not address the fact that end-to-end encryption will be breached if Ofcom finds a way to carry out what the Bill authorizes it to do. So why have we given it authority to do so?”
He further raised concerns about “this odd governance structure where decisions of crucial political sensitivity are being entrusted to an unaccountable regulator.”