British doctors want a tax on tech giants to fund research on the harms caused by social media

Key Points
  • Leading U.K. psychiatrists say tech giants should be forced to hand over data on how children are affected by harmful online content.
  • In a report published Friday, the doctors also recommend "a levy on tech companies proportionate to their worldwide turnover."
Facebook and Instagram logo is seen on a mobile phone , on March 17, 2019.
Nasir Kachroo | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Tech giants like Facebook, Google and Twitter should be slapped with a "turnover tax" to fund research into the harms caused by their social media platforms, according to leading U.K. psychiatrists.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists released a report on Friday calling for the British government to force such tech companies to hand data over to universities that would help researchers understand how children and teens are affected by harmful online content.

In that report, the doctors also recommend "a levy on tech companies proportionate to their worldwide turnover."

"This would be used to fund independent research and training packages for clinicians, teachers and others working with children and young people," the college said.

Representatives for Facebook, Google and Twitter were not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Britain is set to establish an industry-funded regulator that could have the power to slap internet firms with heavy fines, block people's access to certain websites and potentially hold top tech executives personally liable for violations, under proposals set out by the government.

The college suggested that this independent watchdog should be tasked with establishing a tax on the revenues of digital companies. The subject of taxation has been a particularly touchy one for tech companies, which are facing pressure from global regulators to increase their contributions.

France last year introduced a 3% tax on the revenues of tech firms — including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple — generated in the European country. London is also looking to introduce a so-called "digital tax" of its own.

The conversation around the influence of internet platforms on mental health, especially for young people, is a particularly sensitive one in the U.K. The death of Molly Russell, who committed suicide at the age of 14 after watching self-harm videos, led to Facebook-owned Instagram banning graphic images depicting self-harm.

Russell's father, Ian, has backed the Royal College of Psychiatrists' plea to force big tech companies to do more on harmful content. In the report, Russell said, though technological progress brings "many benefits," the "quickening developments can easily disguise the growth of harms that inevitably come in their wake."