Online Safety Bill to protect UK internet users

The UK Government’s Online Safety Bill promises to monitor harmful content, but protect free speech.

Man in dark on laptop.

The Online Safety Bill, announced in the Queen’s Speech, aims “to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while defending free expression”. 

The draft bill outlines measures to restrict anything harmful or illegal, but also promises to protect “democratically important” and “journalistic” content. The bill was originally proposed as the Online Harms Bill in 2019 in order to prioritise users’ welfare. There was particular concern over children, whose internet use is often unsupervised.

Social media firms will be penalised for not complying with the safety measures. These firms will be subject to large fines, if they do not quickly or appropriately take action against illegal or harmful content.

Illegal content includes, for example, anything related to terrorism or CSEA. Harmful content could be anything related to suicide or self-harm, including eating disorders. Although social media firms have their own community guidelines restricting content, the bill specifically requires services to minimise the length of time harmful content is visible and minimise its dissemination.

Social media firms will have to act against users, with either warnings, suspensions, or bans. Their terms of service must be clear and accessible, as well as consistently applied. Users must also be able to sufficiently report inappropriate content.

Concerning children, regulated services must keep risk assessments up-to-date, always preventing children from encountering dangerous content.

What does the Online Safety Bill mean for my marketing strategy?

Half of the bill outlines restrictions for regulated services, which predominantly includes social media firms, or services with a significant number of UK users. Although headlines have focused on the restrictions to these larger firms, unregulated user-to-user services are nonetheless expected to undertake the same duty of care to their users. 

Yuval Ben-Itzhak, president of Socialbakers, an AI-powered social media marketing company, considers the bill “a welcome move”. However, he does question if punishing social media platforms with severe penalties is the only option. “A model of shared responsibility between social media platforms, governments, regulators and users on the platform would make sure all parties felt accountable for what remains a difficult problem to eradicate,” he proposed.

Considering the importance of digital marketing for brands, Yuval added: “No brand wants this to come at the cost of their brand reputation or customer loyalty. Brands want to be sure they are investing their ad budgets into safe and trustworthy platforms free from harm and toxicity.”

Does the Online Safety Bill restrict my freedom of expression?

The draft bill promises to protect both free speech and privacy. It specifically outlines the importance of “protecting users’ right to freedom of expression within the law” and “protecting users from unwarranted infringements of privacy”. 

Journalistic content will be safeguarded, as will content of “democratic importance”. The draft defines the latter as content that “is or appears to be specifically intended to contribute to democratic political debate in the United Kingdom or a part or area of the United Kingdom”.

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