YouTube's UK head Ben McOwen Wilson has spoken exclusively to The Telegraph about the duty of care laws
Banner: Duty of Care
YouTube’s British chief has said that his Silicon Valley bosses are not concerned about him going to jail under new duty of care laws, but are far more worried about paying massive fines.
Ben McOwen Wilson, who heads up the video giant’s UK arm, said "the reality" was that the new proposals to allow Ofcom to levy fines running up to 10 per cent of tech giants’ global turnover was what had turned heads in US boardrooms.
His comment came after ministers last week unveiled plans to impose a statutory duty of care on tech and social media companies forcing them to enforce their own rules and age limits.
The regime will see Ofcom handed powers to immediately fine or even ban companies that breach the duty, which The Telegraph has campaigned for since 2018.
Based on latest earnings, the new rules could see YouTube face maximum fines of just under £1.5 billion, with its parent company Google facing penalties upwards of £13 billion.
However, Ofcom is also being given "reserve" powers, which can be activated by ministers, to jail tech executives for up to two years if they preside over serious harm to users or block the regulator’s investigators from getting access to their secretive algorithms.
Duty of Care campaign | Read more
Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, Mr McOwen Wilson, a former ITV executive, said: “I think my bosses in San Bruno would be more worried about a 10 per cent fine than me going to stay somewhere at Her Majesty’s pleasure for a couple of months.
“Not to either do myself down or big myself up, but I think the secretary of state [Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden who co-authored the bill] is correct in his judgement that big tech firms will be more worried about that than about me. That’s the reality”
Mr McOwen Wilson’s comments come as YouTube launches a drive with the NHS Monday to convince young people to get the coronavirus vaccine.
The campaign, called Let’s Not Go Back, will use videos by YouTube influencers to target 18 to 24-year-olds with information dispelling myths and conspiracies around the Covid shot.
Mr McOwen Wilson said he was keen to help the nation avoid another lockdown as he had witnessed their devastating impact on the young through his four daughters as well as junior colleagues at YouTube.
He said: “I have four daughters, two of them teenagers, who have had deferred GCSE exams and shaken up prospects of university.
“It has also [impacted] young adults as well. I have seen it on my team, people who are living the dream of moving into a flat on their own and then finding those are the four walls they have to occupy on their own for 12 months. So young people have been very heavily impacted.”
The campaign comes as YouTube has been criticised during the pandemic for not cracking down hard enough on Covid and vaccine misinformation, which spread widely over social media and messaging apps in the early months of the crisis.
In the autumn, YouTube tightened up its rules around Covid misinformation videos, saying it will remove any that contradict NHS or WHO guidelines.
The Telegraph asked Mr McOwen Wilson why conspiracy videos are still available on YouTube, including one featuring prominent anti-vaccine campaigner Robert F. Kennedy comparing vaccines to the Holocaust.
The YouTube executive responded that videos could only be removed if the content breached YouTube rules directly and not because of the actions of those in them off the platform.
However, YouTube is currently examining the videos flagged by the paper to see if they breach their policies.
Following the comments, Imran Ahmed, CEO of the Centre for Countering Digital Hate which monitors Covid disinformation, said: “It’s welcome for YouTube to be partnering with the NHS, but this does not change their responsibility to remove the accounts of anti-vaccine superspreaders, those who are using the platform to spread dangerous lies to millions of people."