Crackdown on tech firms as Online Safety Bill is set to become law

Parliament has finally approved new laws aimed at making social media platforms more responsible for user safety

The long-awaited Online Safety Bill which sets out tougher standards for protecting children and adults online has been signed off in the Houses of Parliament and will soon become law.

Social media platforms will now be held legally responsible for the content they host and will face hefty fines if they do not act fast to prevent and remove illegal and harmful content. In some cases, social media platform bosses may even face prison.

The NSPCC hears from children about the unacceptable levels of abuse and harm they face online every day and has campaigned strongly for the legislation to result in a ‘much safer online world for children.’ NSPCC Chief Executive Sir Peter Wanless said:

‘We are absolutely delighted to see the Online Safety Bill being passed through Parliament. It is a momentous day for children and will finally result in the ground-breaking protections they should expect online.’

Tougher rules to keep children safe could lead to fines of up to £18m

Social media giants could face fines of up to £18 million or 10% of their global revenue – whichever is higher – if they don’t comply with new rules 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
  • Provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online when they do arise

Implementation of the new rules will be the job of Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator. Government has said the regulator will immediately begin work on tackling illegal content and protecting children’s safety. Ofcom Chief Executive Dame Melanie Dawes said:

‘Today is a major milestone in the mission to create a safer life online for children and adults in the UK. Very soon after the bill receives Royal Assent, we’ll consult on the first set of standards that we’ll expect tech firms to meet in tackling illegal online harms, including child sexual exploitation, fraud and terrorism.’

Social media platforms are already responding to the new rules. Snapchat has started removing the accounts of underage users and TikTok has implemented stronger age verification.

Greater control over what we see online

Social media platforms will have to offer users more control over what they see online, with the option of filtering out harmful content, such as bullying. And there will be a legal responsibility on social media platforms to enforce what they promise in their terms and conditions.

New laws have been added to the bill to tackle online fraud and violence against women and girls. Social media giants will be responsible for stopping scam adverts online. The law will also make it easier to convict abusers who share intimate images without consent. Those found guilty of this offence could face up to 6 months in jail.

Former Love Island star and campaigner Georgia Harrison said:

‘Violence against women and girls is so common, with one in three women in the UK having experienced online abuse or harassment. The Online Safety bill is going to help bring this to an end, by holding social media companies accountable to protect women and girls from online abuse.’

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