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UK Parliament passes Online Safety Bill, ready to become law

Written by Thu 21 Sep 2023

The Online Safety Bill has passed its final Parliamentary debate on its journey to becoming an official law.

This milestone brings the Government closer to implementing robust child protection laws, while empowering adults to take control of their online lives and safeguarding mental health.

The Bill adopts a zero-tolerance stance to protecting children and holds social media platforms accountable for the content they host. The Bill has undergone considerable parliamentary scrutiny in both the Houses of Parliament and Lords, emerging with ‘stronger protections for all’.

“The Online Safety Bill is a game-changing piece of legislation. Today, this Government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online,” said Michelle Donelan, Technology Secretary.

The Government stressed that without such legislation the Internet will remain a ‘wild west’ of content, endangering children’s lives and users’ mental health.

“It puts protecting children first, enabling us to catch keyboard criminals and crack down on the heinous crimes they seek to commit,” added Donelan.

Donelan said the Bill will deliver a better future for British people by ensuring what is ‘illegal offline is illegal online’.

The Online Safety Bill received support from a former England Lioness, reality stars, and the NSPCC.  Encrypted messaging services, including WhatsApp and Signal, opposed the Bill.

What Are The New Expectations For Social Media Platforms?

Social media platforms will be expected to:

  • Remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place, including content promoting self-harm
  • Prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content
  • Enforce age limits and age-checking measures
  • Ensure the risks and dangers posed to children on the largest social media platforms are more transparent, including by publishing risk assessments
  • Provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online when they do arise

Failure to adhere to the Bill could result in Ofcom imposing fines of up to £18 million ($22 million) or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is greater. The largest platforms could potentially face fines amounting to billions of pounds. In some cases, their bosses may even face prison.

Tech companies are encouraged to seize the opportunity to embrace safety by design.

“The NSPCC is ready to help them listen to and understand the online experiences of their young users to help ensure every child feels safe and empowered online,” said Sir Peter Wanless, Chief Executive at the NSPCC.

How will Online Safety Bill Protect Adult Users?

The Bill empowers adults to take control of what they see online. It provides three layers of protection for Internet users which will:

  • Make sure illegal content will have to be removed

  • Place a legal responsibility on social media platforms to enforce the promises they make to users when they sign up, through terms and conditions

  • Offer users the option to filter out harmful content, such as bullying, that they do not want to see online

New Measures in the Online Safety Bill

The Bill has introduced new measures to combat online fraud and address violence against women and girls. It simplifies the process of convicting individuals who share intimate images without consent.

The Bill also further strengthens the legal framework against the non-consensual sharing of intimate deepfakes.

The new laws will simplify prosecuting those who share intimate images, leading to more convictions and increased public safety. Those found guilty of this offence have a maximum penalty of six months in custody.

The Bill mandates that the largest social media platforms must prevent users from encountering dangerous fraudulent advertisements. This will be achieved by blocking and removing scams. Even if these activities occur outside the UK but are viewed by users in the country, companies must remove these advertisments.

In preparation for the Bill, major social media firms are already taking action. Snapchat has removed underage accounts and TikTok has strengthened its age verification.

What Happens Next? 

The Government is closely collaborating with Ofcom to ensure swift implementation of changes once it becomes law.

“Everyone at Ofcom feels privileged to be entrusted with this important role, and we’re ready to start implementing these new laws,” said Dame Melanie Dawes, Chief Executive at Ofcom.

After receiving Royal Assent, Ofcom will start addressing illegal content and ensuring the safety of children online. They will initiate a consultation process shortly after the Bill becomes law.

“We will consult on the first set of standards that we will expect tech firms to meet in tackling illegal online harms, including child sexual exploitation, fraud and terrorism,” added Dawes.

After these steps are completed, Ofcom will take a phased approach to bringing the Online Safety Bill into force.

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Written by Thu 21 Sep 2023

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