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The Government has published proposals for new internet safety laws

   News / 17 Mar 2022

Published: 17 March 2022
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight

The Government has published proposals for new internet safety laws. The Online Safety Bill, which has been in progress for around five years, establishes Ofcom as the new regulator for the sector, and equips the watchdog with the power to fine companies or block access to sites that fail to comply with the new rules. Measures in the Bill include:

  • Requiring tech firms and social media platforms to prevent users from being exposed to harmful content
  • A new requirement to report child sexual abuse to the National Crime Agency
  • An exemption for news content to help protect free speech
  • Making internet platforms responsible for ensuring paid-for scam adverts do not appear
  • Requiring sites that host pornography to ensure their users are 18 or over
  • The criminalisation of cyberflashing, taking part in digital “pile-ons” and sending threatening social media posts.
  • Social media users to be given the right to appeal if they feel posts have been taken down unfairly
  • Powers to hold company executives criminally liable if they fail to comply with Ofcom information requests from early next year, with jail terms of up to two years
  • Making company managers criminally liable if they destroy evidence, fail to attend interviews with or otherwise obstruct Ofcom, or provide false information

The revised Bill still contains reference to “legal but harmful” content, saying social media platforms must carry out risk assessments on the types of harms that could appear on their service and how they plan to address it. Meanwhile, agreed categories of legal but harmful content will be set out in secondary legislation approved by Parliament; the Government says it will not leave harmful content debates in the hands of social media executives or cause them to over-remove content over fears of being sanctioned. Damian Collins, chair of the Joint Committee on the draft Online Safety Bill, said: “The UK is leading the world with legislation to finally hold social media companies for the offences that take place on their platforms, like hate speech, fraud, terrorism, and child abuse”. However, Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, said the fact the term ‘legal but harmful’ remained in the Bill amounted to the creation of a “censor’s charter” that would “ban Brits from doing normal things like making jokes, seeking help and engaging in healthy debate online”.
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