The UK should establish an independent and powerful new regulator to oversee the content spread by Silicon Valley online platforms, according to the head of Sky, the broadcaster and telco owned by Comcast.

Writing in The Times, Jeremy Darroch acknowledged the many benefits of new technologies, but warned that internet firms must be held to account because the “promise of self-regulation hasn’t worked”.

“From reading the news to keeping in touch with friends, from managing our money to occupying our free time, technology that is owned, developed and run by a handful of online platforms in Silicon Valley dominates our lives on an unstoppable scale,” he wrote.

“We now know better the downside of their effect on our lives,” he continued. “From scams and theft to extremism, violent content and racism, all of us have experienced the darker side of the web.”

Darroch, who is a longstanding critic of Facebook, Google and other US internet companies, said it was amazing that, 20 years after they emerged, “there are virtually no laws governing the behaviour of these companies in Britain, across Europe or around the world.”

He asserted that broadcasters and internet service providers are subject to regulatory frameworks that set standards and “prevent harm to consumers and society,” unlike social media platforms.

For example, he claimed: “We need only look back to the prolific spread of misinformation, online abuse and fake news in last month’s general election to see the damage that unregulated online platforms are doing to our society.”

Although the British government is committed to tackling online harms, Darroch said ministers should inject “some urgency” into their plans and urged them to follow the lead set by Lord McNally.

The Liberal Democrat peer and former justice minister has introduced a bill in the House of Lords calling for media watchdog Ofcom to prepare a duty of care obligation for online platforms to be overseen by an independent regulator.

“Politicians need to set the strategic direction while leaving the oversight of online platforms to an independent, trusted and evidence-based body,” said Darroch.

Sourced from The Times; additional content by WARC staff