Facebook and Google could be forced to uphold the same standards as newspapers and other publications as part of a Government crackdown, it has emerged.
Ministers are looking at whether to classify social media giants as publications instead of communication platforms, which would bind them to strict rules and make them responsible for everything they host.
It came as the Culture Secretary announced new rules to protect children online, including an industry-wide levy – potentially millions of pounds per company – to be spent on education.
New plans revealed by Karen Bradley also include compulsory internet safety lessons to teach children about the dangers of posting naked photos or sending them to people they meet online.
The measures are part of a crackdown on internet giants amid fears young people are increasingly at risk when using the internet.
Under current rules sites like Facebook cannot be sued for the content posted on their sites because it is published by an individual or group, unlike newspapers and other publishers which are held fully responsible.
A spokesman for Theresa May confirmed that ministers are looking at a change in the law in a bid to address concerns.
It came after the chairman of media regulator Ofcom said businesses such as Google should be classed as publishers and lamented her inability to properly police their platforms.
The Number 10 spokesman said: “We are looking at the role Google and Facebook play in the news environment as part of the digital charter.
“We will look carefully at the roles, responsibilities and legal status of the major internet platforms.”
Appearing at the digital, culture, media and sport committee of MPs in Parliament yesterday, Dame Patricia Hodgson said: “Those particular distribution systems [Facebook, etc] are not within Ofcom’s responsibility but we feel very strongly about the integrity of news in this country and we are totally supportive of steps that should and need to be taken to improve matters.
“My personal view is that they are publishers but that is only my personal view, that is not an Ofcom view. As I said Ofcom is simply concerned about the integrity of news and very supportive of the debate and the steps that are being taken.”
It came as the Government announced plans to make “Britain the safest place in the world to be online”.