Are social platforms a spreader of violence? A question that many have started to ask themselves following new legal changes in the UK.

A new online safety bill will oblige social media companies to remove any animal cruelty content from their platforms or face a fine of up to £18 million, the BBC reports. The new changes are expected to come into force this autumn.

The reason for the drastic measures is BBC Eye’s “Monkey Haters” investigation, which uncovered a worldwide network of monkey abuse. Ministers say this is a clear example of the imperative for new changes to online safety law.

From this autumn, animal cruelty videos will be considered a “priority offence” under a new change to the bill that brings them into line with child sexual abuse and threats to kill.

Under the new proposals, social media platforms will be fined up to 10% of their global annual revenue if they do not actively tackle illegal content and remove it.

An undercover BBC reporter joins a private messaging group on Telegram, where he discovers that hundreds of people in the US and UK are ordering and paying for videos of baby monkeys being tortured and killed by humans in Indonesia.

In the US, a former member of the air force has been charged and more than 20 people are under investigation. Two men in Indonesia have been sentenced to prison and in the UK three women have been arrested and released as part of the investigation.

The social media companies did not remain unmoved. YouTube said animal abuse had “no place” on the platform and that it had removed hundreds of thousands of videos. Telegram said its moderators cannot preemptively patrol private groups. There are still active monkey abuse groups on social media.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said that this kind of activity was “deeply disturbing” and that the bill would now broaden beyond its remit of protecting children to “stop the proliferation of animal abuse too”.

“The BBC’s diligent investigative work revealed a dark underbelly of our internet that pushes its sadistic criminal activity to everyday people,” she said.

David Bowles from the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
was hopeful the amendment would be enacted.

“It’s deeply unsettling and disheartening just how widespread animal abuse videos and imagery are becoming and with young people spending so much time online, it can be incredibly challenging for parents and guardians to monitor the content they are seeing,” he said.

According to Nicola O’Brien, chief co-ordinator of the Social Media Animal Cruelty Coalition (SMACC), of which the RSPCA and Action for Primates are members, the new law change “will put more emphasis on platforms to take responsibility and stop providing a literal platform for animal abusers”, adding that they are currently not doing enough to prevent content being shared on their sites.

The Online Safety Act aims to make social media companies more responsible for the safety of their users on their platforms.

Silicon Valley tech giants, however, opposed some of the proposals.

Some platforms such as WhatsApp, Signal and iMessage claim they cannot access or view anyone’s messages without destroying existing privacy protections for all users. They issued a statement saying they would rather leave the UK and deprive users there than compromise on the security of messages.

The final changes to the legislation will be considered by Parliament today. Stay tuned for details.

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