UK introduces Online Safety Bill in the Parliament

The Online Safety Bill that is aimed at creating a safer online environment for users, especially children,.has been introduced in the UK Parliament. Once approved by the Parliament, the bill  will become a law. 

There have been several changes in the bill since it was first published in May 2021. Some of the changes include:   adding paid-for scam advertisements in social media and search engine into the scope; obligation of all websites which publish or host pornography to include checks and age gating; new measures to address anonymous trolls and criminalising cyberflashing.

The bill  proposes obligations on social media platforms, search engines, websites and apps  for protecting children online, tackling illegal content, and limiting the spread of misinformation.

Companies will have to proactively remove  illegal online content related to terrorism and child sexual exploitation and abuse; report any child sexual exploitation and abuse content on their  platforms to the National Crime Agency; addtess issues related to ‘legal, but harmful content’ ; ensure that their terms of service related to content moderation are consistent, transparent, unambiguous and uniform; prevent publishing and hosting of fraudulent advertisements on their services; websites hosting or publishing pornographic content to prevent anyone below 18 years cannot access them;  develop clear and easy process to report harmful content and  challenge content takedowns.

Companies that fail to comply with these obligations can be fined by Ofcom up to 10% of their annual global turnover. Any company that fails to comply with the obligations can be fined up to10% of their annual global turnover by Ofcom the regulator. This also introduces  criminal liability of senior  executives and also forces the companies to improve their practices. 

Ofcom has been provided the power to  block non-compliant sites, demand companies to provide data and information on how algorithms are used in content  display and moderation.

Concerns have been expressed that the Online Safety Bill  risks free speech, is a huge missed opportunity as it has several “gaping holes” and there remains more to be done to  reduce harmful content online.