UK Online Safety Bill: Campaigners call for amendments to enable access to social media data

The UK government is being urged to introduce crucial amendments to the Online Safety Bill that seek to grant online safety experts access to data from social media platforms.

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Campaigners are warning that online safety experts will struggle to raise awareness about harmful content if landmark legislation doesn’t allow them access to data from social media platforms. The government is being called to amend the Online Safety Bill to enable independent researchers to monitor harmful material by accessing platform data overseen by Ofcom. 

These amendments, supported by various groups, including the Countering Digital Hate (CCDH) and the children’s safety charity, the NSPCC, aim to make social media platforms more transparent. The bill is currently in the House of Lords, and campaigners are concerned it may pass without the necessary provisions. Researchers are already facing obstacles, with Twitter charging a significant fee for previously free data access. 

Imran Ahmed, CEO of CCDH, emphasises the importance of the amendment for maintaining transparency and accountability on social media platforms. The amendment requires platforms to follow a code of practice set by Ofcom, ensuring independent researchers’ access to data while safeguarding privacy. However, concerns about sensitive data access and unintended consequences have been raised. 

The bill includes other amendments, such as strengthening online age-checking to protect children from explicit content and requiring a code of practice on preventing violence against women and girls. The Wikimedia Foundation has expressed concern about age verification requirements, stating that it does not collect user data and would not comply if required to monitor users’ ages.