UK partners with social media firms to crack down on posts by people smugglers

The British government announced a new partnership with social media companies on Sunday targeting posts by people smugglers in a bid to deter migrants from crossing the English Channel to get to the UK.

The voluntary partnership will speed up action to tackle people smuggling content online, including criminals sharing information about illegal Channel crossings, said a statement by the Prime Minister's Office.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that the new commitment from tech companies will see the government redouble its efforts to "fight back against these criminals," working together to stop their activities.

"To stop the boats, we have to tackle the business model of vile people smugglers at the source. That means clamping down on their attempts to lure people into making these illegal crossings and profit from putting lives at risk," he said in the statement.

His announcement came as new figures showed that English Channel crossings via small boats remain down from last year, the legacy asylum backlog has been reduced by a third since December 2022, and enforced returns of people with no right to be in the UK are at their highest level since 2019.

Sunak named tackling small boat crossings as one of his five priorities after over 45,000 migrants arrived in the country last year by crossing the English Channel.

"Heartless people smugglers are using social media to promote their despicable services and charge people thousands of pounds to make the illegal journey into the UK in unsafe boats," said Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

"They must not succeed," she added.

Citing data from the country's National Crime Agency (NCA), the statement noted that over 90% of online content linked to people smuggling is taken down when social media companies are notified.

As part of the new partnership, in close cooperation with the NCA, social media companies will find and remove criminal content and step up the sharing of best practices both across the industry and with law enforcement.

"The voluntary partnership also includes a commitment to explore ways to step up efforts to redirect people away from this content when they come across it online," said the statement, adding the new initiative will build on the 2021 "Social Media Action Plan" between the government and the five social media platforms.

Social media companies will also be required to make sure they will be able to prevent people coming into contact with illegal content created by people smugglers, minimize how long this content is available online, and remove it as soon as possible when the Online Safety Bill comes into force.

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