Belfast Telegraph

Social media firms 'must halt inappropriate material or face consequences'

Social media companies need to clamp down on inappropriate material being posted on their sites or face "recourse through the courts", a former minister has warned.

Conservative MP Ed Vaizey, the ex-minster for culture, communications and creative industries, said politicians "shouldn't be frightened" to take on the big companies to ensure citizens are protected.

It follows the landmark case of the 14-year-old girl from Northern Ireland who secured an out-of-court settlement with Facebook after nude images of her were repeatedly posted on a revenge porn page.

Speaking on the BBC's Today programme, Mr Vaizey said: "There needs to be potentially a regulatory backstop to make companies introduce this type of technology (which recognises when indecent images are posted). The technology exists.

"I think there have been a lot of changes but of course we can go further.

"One of the hugely irritating things about this debate is if any politician sticks their head above the parapet, the tech ecology stands up and says: 'These politicians don't understand tech.'

"We do understand a civic society, there are civic norms, tech needs to come into the public square and politicians shouldn't be frightened of engaging with them on this issue."

Earlier this week l awyers acting for the teenager over the revenge porn images - allegedly posted several times between November 2014 and January 2016 - criticised the police handling of the case.

One of the teenager's lawyers, Pearse MacDermott from McCann and McCann Solicitors, told the Press Association that police delays in the handling of the case meant officers were unable to prosecute the person who posted the images, which caused a "detrimental effect" to the girl's mental health.

Responding to social media platforms' roles in removing image-based abuse and other inappropriate content, Mr Vaizey said: "Should Facebook have some responsibility for what goes on on what we would call its platform? Yes it should, and there has been some legislation which is sort of trying to catch up.

"But I don't think politicians should shy away from the fact that we do need legalisation to combat these new issues.

"Although Facebook initially took down this horrific post (of the Northern Irish 14-year-old), it came back on again and Facebook didn't act.

"Facebook and the other companies have the power to combat these issues and they need to act.

"More and more people are talking about the fact that social media companies have to take responsibility, and if not there should be legislation and certainly recourse through the courts."

Revenge porn laws were introduced by Westminster in 2015 following a campaign which garnered cross-party support.

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