Online Safety Bill Coming Soon in UK—But Not Enough yet

For the past Over the past ten years, the biggest companies in the tech industry have been allowed to effectively grade their own homework. They have defended their power through extensive lobbying while hiding behind the tech industry’s infamous adage, “Move fast and break things.”

Food and beverage companies, the auto industry, and financial services are all subject to regulatory and accountability measures that ensure high levels of ethics, fairness and transparency. On the other hand, tech companies often argue that any law will limit their ability to operate efficiently, generate profits, and do what they’ve become so powerful about. Currently, there are a host of bills and legislation around the world that ultimately aim to limit these powers, such as the UK’s long-awaited Online Safety Bill. That bill is due to pass in 2023, but its limitations mean it won’t go into effect.

The Online Safety Bill has been in the works for several years and effectively fulfills its obligation to monitor illegal content on the platforms themselves. It also has the potential to impose an obligation on platforms to restrict content that is technically legal but could be deemed harmful, which would set a dangerous precedent for freedom of expression and protection of disadvantaged groups.

In 2020 and 2021, YouGov and BT (along with my charity, Glitch) found that 1.8 million people surveyed said they had been subjected to cyberbullying in the past year . 23% of those surveyed are members of the LGBTQIA community and 25% of those surveyed say they have experienced racist abuse online.

In 2023, legislation to tackle some of this harm will come into force in the UK, but it won’t go far enough. Campaigners, think tanks and experts in the field have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the Online Safety Bill as it currently stands. The Demos think tank stressed that the bill does not specifically name minorities—such as women and the LGBTQIA community—although these communities tend to be more affected by online abuse.

The Carnegie UK Trust notes that although the term “significant harm” is used in the bill, there is no specific process to determine what this is or how platforms will have to measure it. Scholars and other groups have warned of the bill’s proposal to scrap the previous Section 11 requirement that Ofcom should “encourage the development and use of technologies and systems to regulate access to access [electronic] materials.” Other groups have raised concerns about the removal of provisions around education and future proof—making the law counterproductive and ineffective, as it would not be possible. explain the harm that can be caused by underrepresented platforms.

Platforms have to change and other countries have passed laws trying to make this possible. Now, we’ve seen Germany issue NetzDG in 2017, the first country in Europe to take a stand against hate speech on social media—platforms with over 2 million users with a deadline seven days to remove illegal content or face a maximum fine of up to 50 million euros. In 2021, EU lawmakers laid out a package of rules for the Big Tech giants through the Digital Markets Act, which prevents platforms from giving preferential treatment to their own products. them and in 2022 we have already seen progress with the EU AI Act, which involves extensive consultation with civil society organizations to adequately address concerns around vulnerable groups and technology, a fruitful deal that campaigners in the UK are calling for. In Nigeria, the federal government has issued a new internet code of conduct as an effort to tackle misinformation and cyberbullying, including specific provisions to protect children from content. harmful content.

In 2023, the UK will pass legislation to tackle similar harms, eventually making progress on regulators for tech companies. Unfortunately, the Online Safety Bill will not have adequate measures in place to truly protect vulnerable people online, and much more will need to be done.


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