LONDON-Prime Minister Theresa May said the proposals were a result of social media companies’ failure to self-regulate.

“The internet can be brilliant at connecting people across the world – but for too long these companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from harmful content,” she said. “That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently. We have listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe. “Online companies must start taking responsibility for their platforms, and help restore public trust in this technology.” The proposed new laws will apply to any company that allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online, the government said. The regulation will be applicable to companies of all sizes – from social media platforms to file hosting sites, forum, messaging services and search engines. The proposal also calls for powers to force internet firms to publish annual transparency reports about the harmful content on their platforms and how they are addressing it.

Companies including Facebook and Twitter already publish reports of this nature. In March, Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg wrote an op-ed calling for governments to play a more active role in establishing regulation for the internet.

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, said tech firms had a “moral duty” to protect the young people they “profit from”. “Despite our repeated calls to action, harmful and illegal content – including child abuse and terrorism – is still too readily available online,” he said. “That is why we are forcing these firms to clean up their act once and for all. I made it my mission to protect our young people – and we are now delivering on that promise.” However, former culture secretary John Whittingdale warned ministers risk creating a “draconian censorship regime” in their attempt to regular internet firms. He feared the plans would send the wrong message to other countries which censor their people. “Countries such as China, Russia and North Korea, which allow no political dissent and deny their people freedom of speech, are also keen to impose censorship online, just as they already do on traditional media,” he said.