Online Safety Bill: 7 points to note

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Highlights 

  • The Online Safety Bill is a proposed Act in the United Kingdom to enhance the safety net around internet.
  • The Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee (DCMS) said the bill is clear on various grounds.
  • A group of MPs has warned that the bill does not prevent sharing of some of the most insidious pictures of abuse against children and women.

 

The Online Safety Bill is claimed to be one of the most detailed and far-reaching efforts to control content circulated online, which could have global implications. The bill is expected to set out rules for tech companies to take care of and protect users’ free speech and privacy from illegal and harmful content or face significant penalties imposed by the communications regulator Ofcom.

In May 2021, the first draft of the bill was published, which had asked websites, apps to remove harmful or illegal content and protect children. It largely left the rules to the tech giants to govern themselves, with media regulator Ofcom overseeing the rules.

Recently, the Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport Committee (DCMS) said the online safety bill is neither clear, nor protects freedom of expression, nor is robust enough to address illegal and harmful online content.

A group of MPs has warned that the bill sets out rules about how online platforms should deal with content but does not prevent sharing of some of the most insidious pictures of abuse against children and women.

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The DCMS urged the government to address content that are harmful but legal such as abuse against women and children such as tech-enabled “nudifying” or “breadcrumbing”, where child abuser edit images to demolish content moderation to stay online and leaves digital information for other abusers to find abuse content and deepfake pornography.

The MPs want the bill to reframe the definition of illegal content to address the behaviour of abusers. Besides, more need to be done to define risk on illegal and harmful activities that are not illegal but are part of the online abuse.

After making all the necessary changes recommended by the committee, the bill will be presented to parliament around March 2022 to make it a law. 

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Let’s see 7 crucial points about the Online Safety Bill.

  1. The Online Safety Bill is one of the first bills to lay down a set of rules on how online platforms should deal with content. The bill is split into three parts that include preventing the spread of illegal content and activities such as terrorist material, child pornography, and hate crimes; protecting children from harmful and inappropriate content; protecting adults from legal but harmful content such as cyberbullying.
  2. The bill sets out guidelines for large tech companies such as Twitter, Meta, and YouTube to protect users’ freedom of expression and privacy and keep them safe from harmful and inappropriate content. How these companies comply with guidelines will be monitored by online safety regulator Ofcom.

 

If the companies fail to comply with the regulations and guidelines, they could face fines of up to £18 million, or 10% of their annual global turnover, whichever is higher.

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  1. The draft of the bill has undergone pre-legislative scrutiny in Parliament by a joint committee made up of the members of the House of Lords and the House of Commons to find loopholes and suggest changes. Following this, the bill will be tabled in the Parliament.
  2. The harmful and legal part of the bill is one of the major problems as these activities are not clearly defined as it may range from spreading misinformation, cyberbullying and abuse to self-harm. These activities are not clearly defined as criminal offences but have damaging effects. For example, during the pandemic, various groups spread anti-vaccine misinformation and critics argued that statutory regulations should be introduced as self-regulation by tech companies is not enough.

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  1. The joint committee recommended to make a broader and clearer definition of harmful activities with international human rights law and to provide Ofcom with more powers to investigate and fine tech companies and set more explicit standards.
  2. The Online Safety Bill lays out exemptions for journalism, free speech, and public interest. The committee recommended that removing a section that deals with legal and harmful content for adults could lead to unintended widespread censorship.

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  1. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) has sent an open letter to Nadine Dorries, Secretary of DCMS, to consider children as the most important part of the bill and has laid down five-point plan to strengthen the bill that can tackle how offenders use social media to organize abuse.

 


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