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  • Caspar James - Tech Journalist

If a new online safety bill is passed in parliament, tech firms could be fined over harmful content

In the coming months, a new 145 page internet bill, the draft Online Safety Bill, is expected to come before parliament, which, if made law, will see tech companies potentially being fined for publishing harmful content online. This landmark new internet law would help to keep children safe and combat racism and other forms of online abuse.

The content of the draft Online Safety Bill 2021 includes:

  • Giving the new online regulator, Ofcom, the power to fine companies up to £18m or 10% of their global turnover, whichever figure is higher, if they fail to act and take down harmful content

  • Allow Ofcom the power to block access to any harmful site

  • Tech companies, through duty of care, must take action against dangerous content and content that is lawful but harmful, such as suicide or self-harm

  • If tech companies fail to oversee content of their sites, senior managers of those companies could face criminal action for allowing harmful content to go online

  • Fraudulent user-generated content, financial fraud, romance scams or fake investment opportunities, must all be the responsibility of tech firms to manage and remove from their sites

  • The protection of democratic content, where platforms will not be allowed to discriminate against political viewpoints and otherwise banned content will be allowed, if it is regarded as "democratically important"

The British government must now act against online abuse, brought into the mainstream recently, after a large group of sportsman, athletes and organisations took part in a social media boycott, protesting against the lack of action by the government against online abuse.

Oliver Dowden, Digital Secretary said the "ground-breaking laws" would "usher in a new age of accountability for tech and bring fairness and accountability to the online world."

"We will protect children on the internet, crack down on racist abuse on social media and through new measures to safeguard our liberties, create a truly democratic digital age," Dowden said.

Home Secretary, Priti Patel said, “This new legislation will force tech companies to report online child abuse on their platforms, giving our law enforcement agencies the evidence they need to bring these offenders to justice.

“Ruthless criminals who defraud millions of people and sick individuals who exploit the most vulnerable in our society cannot be allowed to operate unimpeded, and we are unapologetic in going after them.

“It’s time for tech companies to be held to account and to protect the British people from harm. If they fail to do so, they will face penalties.”

The NSPCC however has warned that the draft Bill fails to offer the protection that children should receive when on social media. The cross-platform nature of the abuse of children on social media has not been addressed in the new Bill.

Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Government has the opportunity to deliver a transformative Online Safety Bill if they choose to make it work for children and families, not just what’s palatable to tech firms.

“The ambition to achieve safety by design is the right one. But this landmark piece of legislation risks falling short if Oliver Dowden does not tackle the complexities of online abuse and fails to learn the lessons from other regulated sectors.

“Successful regulation requires the powers and tools necessary to achieve the rhetoric.

“Unless Government stands firm on their promise to put child safety front and centre of the Bill, children will continue to be exposed to harm and sexual abuse in their everyday lives which could have been avoided.”

So, if the proposed new government Bill is passed it must now put the responsibility of what is shown online in the hands of the tech companies themselves, and lay down the law if these companies aren't providing the service of care to protect children and others from harmful content, online abuse and racism.





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