The Online Safety Bill Becomes Law, Holding Social Media Firms Accountable

The Online Safety Bill Becomes Law, Holding Social Media Firms Accountable

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After years of delays and controversies, the Online Safety Bill has passed its final hurdle in the House of Lords, finally becoming law. The landmark legislation aims to protect users, especially children, from harmful online content and hold social media companies accountable for removing illegal material.

The bill, which was first proposed in a white paper in 2019, faced challenges concerning issues of freedom of speech and privacy. One particularly contentious proposal involved undermining messaging encryption on platforms like WhatsApp and Signal to enable the monitoring of private chats for criminal content.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan hailed the bill as a game-changer in making the UK the safest place to be online. It will require social media platforms to swiftly remove illegal content or prevent its appearance, including material promoting self-harm, drug and weapon sales, terrorism, sexual exploitation, hate speech, scams, and revenge porn.

The enforcement of the bill will largely fall under the responsibility of communications regulator Ofcom. Social media executives could face hefty fines or even imprisonment for non-compliance. Additionally, the legislation introduces new criminal offenses such as cyber-flashing and the sharing of “deepfake” pornography.

The Online Safety Bill has garnered significant support from organizations like the NSPCC, the Internet Watch Foundation, bereaved parents who attribute harmful online content to their child’s death, and survivors of sexual abuse. However, there have been concerns within the Conservative Party that the legislation may unduly restrict online free speech.

Tech companies have criticized the proposed regulations regarding legal but harmful content, arguing that they unfairly burden platforms with liability for the material they host. In response to these concerns, an amendment was made last year, specifying that platforms would need to provide adults with tools to hide certain material they choose not to see.

Overall, the passing of the Online Safety Bill marks a significant step forward in ensuring online safety in the UK, while balancing the complexities surrounding freedom of expression and privacy concerns.

– Original article from BBC News
– Definitions:
– Online Safety Bill: Legislation aimed at removing illegal content and protecting users from harmful online material.
– Encryption: A security measure that protects data converting it into a code, making it unreadable without the appropriate decryption key.
– Cyber-flashing: The act of sending unsolicited explicit images to someone electronically, typically via messaging apps or social media platforms.
– “Deepfake” pornography: Manipulated videos or images that use artificial intelligence to superimpose someone’s face onto explicit adult content.