Online Safety Bill becomes law, not without controversy | #childsafety | #kids | #chldern | #parents | #schoolsafey

The new Online Safety Bill applies to user-to-user services, which is essentially any website a user can post something on, regardless if it’s shared with other users. This means that sites like X, Reddit, and Discord will fall under the scope of the new act, as will sites like personal blogs. The act also covers search services, which almost every social media app falls under. 

Organisations implicated by the safety bill must only have “links to the United Kingdom,” meaning that even if it is wholly operated and owned outside the UK, if someone in the UK can use it, it’s in the scope of the act. 

Failing to comply with the rules set out by the act could result in a fine as large as £18 million, or 10% of their global annual revenue. On top of this, leaders in the organisation could face prison time. 

While the new rules touch on many subjects, the crux of the new act is to protect children. “No-one should be afraid of what they or their children might see online so our reforms will make the internet a safer place for everyone,” said Alex Chalk, lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice.

To do this, the bill requires online organisations to swiftly remove or prevent the appearance of illegal content, enforce age limits, and use age-checking measures for inappropriate content. It will also require that these organisations promote transparency about the risks and dangers of their platforms and provide an accessible way to report online issues. 

Aside from its rules to protect children, it will also help adults have better control over what they see online by making sure illegal content is removed, enforce rules set in the terms and conditions, and offer users the option to filter out content. 

Notably, the bill is also focused on provisions to address the disproportionate level of violence and harassment women and girls experience online. The act is making it easier to convict someone who shares intimate images without consent, and further criminalises intimate deep fakes. 


The bill is not without its controversy, however. The legislation added in a highly divisive requirement which requires messaging platforms to scan user messages for illegal material, which some tech companies have said is an attack on encryption. Meta’s WhatsApp said it would rather leave the UK all together instead of abiding by this requirement. 

Perhaps more controversial than what is included, is what is not. The act did not include any legislation on widespread disinformation campaigns which have been growing in frequency since the pandemic. Since the bill is so focused on individual pieces of content, it missed the opportunity to tackle this kind of threat which often happens at scale. 

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While the act does have pieces in place to combat ‘false communications,’ this only applies to harm caused by the sender communicating something they know to be untrue. If the post-pandemic years are any indication of the disinformation landscape, we should know by now that the individual rarely knows what they are saying is false.

While the onus of fact checking does ultimately fall on the individual, this new bill had a chance to set up mechanisms in place to stop harmful disinformation becoming viral in the way it does at the moment. 

Ofcom’s role

The Online Safety Bill, which was years in the making, will be enforced by the UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom, who will publish its codes of practise in three phases. 

Phase one, which is to be published 9 November, will appertain to illegal content such as child sexual abuse material, terrorist content, and fraud. Next, in December this year, phase two will address child safety, pornography, and protecting women and girls.

The last phase will be additional rules for categorised services, which are large or high-risk platforms that will be subject to obligations like producing transparency reports, which will have a draft guidance by spring 2024. 

“Ofcom is not a censor, and our new powers are not about taking content down. Our job is to tackle the root causes of harm. We will set new standards online, making sure sites and apps are safer by design,” said Ofcom chief executive dame Melanie Dawes.

“These new laws give Ofcom the power to start making a real difference in creating a safer life online for children and adults in the UK.”

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