The new online safety bill: What does it mean?

7th December 2021

A new online safety bill is being considered by MP’s and Lords. The bill is huge, but some people believe that it doesn’t go far enough. The bill is designed to:

  • Prevent the spread of illegal content and activity such as child pornography, terrorist material and hate crimes, including racist, sexist and homophobic abuse.
  • Protect children from harmful material.
  • Protect adults from legal, but harmful content.

There are many barriers that might stop this bill from being pushed through. For example, should pornography sites be asked to implement age verification? How will tech giants differentiate between hate and free speech? How will anonymous abuse be dealt with?

Once/if the bill is implemented, if firms fail to comply with the new rules, it could result in them receiving either a fine worth £18 million or 10% of their annual global turnover; whichever amount is greater.

You may be asking, “what do the social media giants such as Twitter and Facebook have to say about this bill?”. Although they continue to reiterate that they are currently trying to improve platform safety and have spent a lot of money doing so, they are still onboard with the bill, even if they are still cautious.

The NSPCC has criticised the bill asking for it to make child safety its number one priority. They have produced a 5-point list to help improve the legislation:

  • Set up a statutory body which represents children’s online interests.
  • Have a manager that is responsible for children’s online safety. They must also be named so the public are aware of who this responsibility falls to.
  • Disrupt grooming pathways.
  • Help to cut down on abuse in private messaging.
  • Tackle how offenders use social media to organise abuse.

Another criticism of the bill is that all the responsibility for punishing offenders should NOT fall fully on the tech giants. Lawyer Yair Cohen said, "Tech companies have now officially become the equivalent of owners of a potential crime scene who are also in charge of investigating the crime on their venue whilst also acting as both judges and executioners."

He also said that making it so you must verify your identity if you wish to sign up for social media, would almost completely deter abusers from committing offenses and would add a huge layer of comfort for victims as it’s the facelessness of the offenders that makes victims feel so helpless.

"Knowing that their identity could be easily unravelled would deter 90% of online abusers, most of whom are otherwise normative individuals," he said. Whatever your opinion, you must feel that something really needs to be done about the amount of abuse people receive on online social platforms. Only time will tell how the bill will be changed before it is implemented.

Photo by Timothy Hales Bennett on Unsplash.

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