You may have been wondering what became of the Online Safety Bill (once named the Online Harms Bill) and what the impact, if any, of the change in culture secretary would bring. Well, the answer can be found in the announcement on Monday that it is alive and kicking and moving to the next stage of legislative scrutiny, albeit with some quite material amendments. The UK Government claims that the latest draft of the Bill goes further in safeguarding children, protecting free speech, and boosting transparency and accountability of online services.
We’ve summarised the key (new) amendments below:
“Legal but harmful” no more
Power to the people
- online services must now provide adults with greater control and choice over the content they see and engage with, and offer adults tools to help them avoid harmful content. This new obligation intends to replace the former obligations to remove lawful but harmful content, which have now been scrapped. Many platforms already include controls and settings to give control to users over what they choose to see, but this will make it more universal and potentially more standardised.
Protecting freedom of speech
Publishing child risk assessments
- online services must publish more information about the risks their services pose to children.
Age verification and restricting underage access
New criminal offences
- including ‘assisting or encouraging self-harm’ and ‘controlling or coercive behaviour’. These criminal offences will be listed as types of illegal content that platforms must take steps to prevent users from encountering.
The Bill will be returning to the House of Commons on Monday 5 December. While the Bill is still intended to come into force by May 2023, more delays and twists could still be ahead. Of course, in the meantime, international platforms are already working hard on implementing the changes required for the EU’s Digital Services Act. For our latest comparison table between the two, see here.