Social media users will be able to demand that internet companies delete everything they posted online before the age of 18 under plans to be set out in the Conservative manifesto. Fines could be imposed on those firms that do not comply or fail to improve their protections for children.
Theresa May is placing the new digital safeguards at the heart of her manifesto in the hope of wooing parents who are worried about the dangers of the internet.
One key pledge will be a new entitlement for users to have the power to delete their records, comments and photographs from platforms such as Facebook or Twitter that were posted before they were 18. It will mean people can easily erase postings from when they were younger without entirely deleting their accounts.
Social media companies will have to do more to show they are preventing harmful content reaching children, such as introducing new child-friendly apps, if they are to avoid fines.
There will be a further requirement for social media companies to respond to complaints about offensive content either by taking it down or explaining why it does not meet the criteria.
The Conservatives said they wanted to take a voluntary approach initially but this would be backed up by the power to introduce new levies if the companies failed to make enough progress on stopping children getting access to harmful material.
“Social media sites will be required not to direct users unintentionally to hate speech, pornography or other sources of harm. And platforms will be obliged to allow users to report inappropriate, bullying, harmful or illegal content, with takedown on a comply or explain basis,” the party said.
The manifesto will commit to giving households a “freedom to be connected to low cost and fast broadband connections, wherever you live in the country, with transparent pricing, easy switching and an entitlement to redress when companies are not delivering”.
However, Conservative MPs have complained for years that a previous manifesto commitment to roll out superfast broadcast has taken too long to deliver.
The new internet policy is one of several consumer-focused offers promoted by May during the election, including a cap on energy prices and a crackdown on unscrupulous pensions provision.
But the Conservative offerings so far are nowhere near as radical as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour manifesto, leaked on Thursday, which sets out a programme of nationalisation of the railways, energy and Royal Mail, and scrapping of tuition fees, as well as increased taxes for those who earn more than £80,000 a year.
During a speech in North Shields in north-east England on Friday, May warned there would be tough trade-offs to tackle the UK’s problems contained in next week’s Conservative manifesto.
She did not rule out a tax on people’s estates after death to pay for social care costs in a speech in which she said she was aware of five key challenges facing the UK, of which the Brexit was the most central issue to get right over the next five years. But she will also have to address domestic problems such as the social care crisis that is putting pressure on the NHS.
Her warning about trade-offs in the manifesto indicates May is not planning to regale voters with a series of populist giveaways and could even hint at tax rises for some sections of society.
“We do face a challenge of an ageing population and how we can ensure that we provide for that ageing population. I think there are short-term, medium-term and long-term solutions,” she said. “(There is) a long-term issue about the sustainability of social care, for the long-term.
“Obviously we will be publishing our manifesto next week and I’m afraid if you want to know what’s in the manifesto you will have to wait.”
Her speech, at a civic centre previously threatened with closure by a Conservative mayor, upped her attacks on Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, accusing him of weakness on security, and on Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, in a sign that the next four weeks could be increasingly fractious and personal.
May seized on Labour’s manifesto to accuse Corbyn of “deserting proud and patriotic working class people”, caricaturing the document as a plan to “go back to the disastrous socialist policies of the 1970s”.
Earlier in the day, she launched her battlebus for the campaign, which was painted only with a tiny reference to the Conservatives and a huge slogan about May herself.
May has been increasingly running a presidential campaign about her own leadership, contrasting herself with Corbyn, who has taken a more colleagiate approach to the prospect of entering No 10. The Labour leader repeatedly stresses the joint effort involved in running his party and grassroots membership behind his leadership.