The World Wide Web. Where would we be without it?
The internet has become such an integral part of our daily lives. But alongside all of its benefits, there’s growing concern about the potential harm it can cause – particularly for children and young people. With risks such as cyber-bullying, misinformation and harmful content becoming an increasing issue.
According to recent research by the NSPCC, over the last 5 years, online grooming crimes have surged by 83% and child abuse image crimes have risen by 66%.
Several high-profile cases have also highlighted the potential dangers of being online. Such as the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, which was ruled to be (at least in part) due to the self-harm and suicide content she was recommended on social media platforms.
Posting such harmful and explicit content online often falls short of being ‘criminal activity’. Which is why, it’s proven difficult to protect internet users from harm – until now.
With the introduction of the long-awaited Online Safety Bill, the government hope to ‘make the UK the safest place to go online’ – imposing new legal requirements on providers of internet services and social media apps, and promising a new era of online accountability.
Here we take a closer look at the changes it will make.
What is the Online Safety Bill?
And how will it promote your family’s safety?
First introduced to parliament in March 2022, the Online Safety Bill has undergone considerable scrutiny in the House of Commons and House of Lords – to ensure it provides the strongest possible protections. And this month, it has finally received royal assent and will become law.
The main objective of this new online safety law is to safeguard vulnerable populations – particularly children – from harmful content and interactions online and on social media. Whilst also holding internet services and social media companies accountable for the safety of their users.
A company is within the scope of the law if it distributes any type of user-generated material to other users or if it’s a search engine. So, it covers a wide range of popular platforms, including everything from X, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok to YouTube and Google.
Taking a zero-tolerance approach, these sites now have a ‘duty of care’ and will be expected to:
- remove illegal content quickly to prevent it from appearing in the first place.
- prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content, including pornographic content, content that promotes, encourages or provides instructions for suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, content depicting or encouraging serious violence, and bullying content.
- enforce age limits and use age-checking measures.
- ensure social media platforms are more transparent about the risks and dangers posed to children on their sites, including by publishing risk assessments.
- provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online.
In addition to these advanced protections for children, the new online safety act will also empower adults to take control of what they see online. This will be done by making sure illegal content is removed, placing a legal responsibility on websites to enforce the promises they make to users, and offering users the option to filter out potentially harmful content.
How will the online safety law be enforced?
All of the above will take place under the regulation of Ofcom.
If sites and social media platforms do not comply with the rules, Ofcom will have the power to block access to them within the UK – working hand-in-hand with internet service providers. Moreover, they could fine them up to £18 million or 10% of their global annual revenue – whichever is biggest. Which means, fines given to the largest platforms could reach billions of pounds.
In some cases, company executives and directors may also face imprisonment.
Now that the bill has received royal assent, Ofcom will start to draw up codes of conduct – designed to help companies understand and comply with the rules and avoid these consequences.
Will it make a difference?
The new law certainly isn’t without its issues.
Perhaps surprisingly, its introduction has sparked controversial debate, with some people concerned about the impact it’ll have on freedom of speech. And as a result, early last year, the government decided to ‘water down’ the legislation – dropping measures to ban ‘legal but harmful’ web content. A move that could potentially reduce the protection provided.
Concerns have also been raised over the true impact of the proposed Ofcom fines. For some tech giants, even a multi-million-pound bill is a drop in the ocean. Plus the exact circumstances in which the fines would be imposed and how criminal action could be taken is still unclear.
However, it’s important to note, these challenges do not diminish the bills’ significance.
This is a pioneering ‘world-first’ piece of legislation, aimed at redefining online safety standards. It’s a definite step in the right direction for the digital generation and will undoubtedly improve online safety for children and young people – not only now, but for decades to come. And several social media companies have already started to adapt their policies in line with the changes.
Got a question about the Ofcom Online Safety Bill?
Our specialist solicitors are up to date with all the latest changes to this area of the law, including the Online Safety Bill and how this will be of benefit to families – and we’re always happy to help.
Perhaps you’d like to find out more about how the internet safety law will help? Maybe you’re concerned about online safety and the welfare of your child whilst browsing the web? Or believe they may have been exposed to online abuse or harmful content?
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch. For any further advice and information, you’re welcome to call us at any time on 01744 742360. Alternatively, send an email to email@example.com and we’ll respond as soon as possible.