UK: New Online Safety Bill in the pipeline

Online Safety Bill

The Online Safety Bill has been on the cards for some time. A draft is now available. (Sanity warning, 133 pages). There is also an associated UK Government press release that contains some interesting details.

Don’t get too excited, there is a lot of valid criticism. Thankfully it is still a draft, so that can be changed.

UK Gov Press Release: Landmark laws to keep children safe, stop racial hate and protect democracy online published

The position they take within the press release is that they need to get the balance right between permitting freedom of expression and clamping down on online abuse. Beyond the obvious provisions for racism, they have also stated that they have included measures to clamp down on fraud. The examples they give are financial fraud, fake dating sites, and fake investments.

Here is a key highlight …

  • Ofcom will be given the power to fine companies failing in a new duty of care up to £18 million or ten per cent of annual global turnover, whichever is higher, and have the power to block access to sites.
  • A new criminal offence for senior managers has been included as a deferred power. This could be introduced at a later date if tech firms don’t step up their efforts to improve safety.

In other words, the social media platform will be legally obliged to remove abusive materials, or face financial consequences.

The press release goes on the explain …

In line with the government’s response to the Online Harms White Paper, all companies in scope will have a duty of care towards their users so that what is unacceptable offline will also be unacceptable online.

They will need to consider the risks their sites may pose to the youngest and most vulnerable people and act to protect children from inappropriate content and harmful activity.

They will need to take robust action to tackle illegal abuse, including swift and effective action against hate crimes, harassment and threats directed at individuals and keep their promises to users about their standards.

The largest and most popular social media sites (Category 1 services) will need to act on content that is lawful but still harmful such as abuse that falls below the threshold of a criminal offence, encouragement of self-harm and mis/disinformation. 

Translation: Postings that promote fake news must get taken down or else.

The big platforms are really not going to like this, but it is inevitable, their inaction now forces legislators to mandate that they must act.

The Right to Appeal

This is also there …

People using their services will need to have access to effective routes of appeal for content removed without good reason and companies must reinstate that content if it has been removed unfairly. Users will also be able to appeal to Ofcom and these complaints will form an essential part of Ofcom’s horizon-scanning, research and enforcement activity.

That’s another big tick. Too many of the platforms take the lazy way out by simply banning stuff that contains specific key words. These are sometimes postings by people warning you about the misinformation and scams. Meanwhile the scammers know how to avoid such words and by doing so bypass such bans. This right to appeal should help to address this problem.

I do worry about some aspects

This is the UK Tory Government, the folks who delivered BREXIT as a complete on-going clusterfuck, and is also deeply corrupt. Could they possibly get this bill right, or will they also totally and completely screw this up?

Here is just one small example …

Articles by recognised news publishers shared on in-scope services will be exempted and Category 1 companies will now have a statutory duty to safeguard UK users’ access to journalistic content shared on their platforms.

Fox News is not a reliable news source, nor is the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, so who gets to decide what is a credible news publisher?

I suspect this might be a loophole for fake news and disinformation to continue.

Let’s take a look and see what the Twitter hive-mind is saying.

Online Safety Bill – Tweets

Marianna, takes a neutral stance …

Others however, don’t.

There are also folks with serious concerns about the Online Safety Bill

Here are some subject matter experts raising some very valid criticism.

Check this thread …

… and after reading the above thread there is also this thread …

.. and then you also have this …

Final Thought

The point in issuing a draft is for such comments to be raised.

The real question is this – will those working on the bill listen?

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