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Five ways social media firms must change as the Online Safety Bill is signed off

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

Social media firms are set to come under fire through the Online Safety Bill which was signed off by the Houses of Parliament this week and is due to become law soon.

The Government said it will place new rules on social media companies to protect children and also give adults more power to take control of their lives online while protecting their mental health.

It will see social media platforms, such as Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook, be legally responsible for the content on their sites.

If these firms do not act “rapidly to prevent and remove illegal content and stop children seeing material that is harmful to them, such as bullying”, they could be fined.

The Government said depending on the severity of the content, fines could reach up to £18m or 10% of a firm’s annual revenue and bosses of social media platforms could end up in prison.

Technology secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: “I am immensely proud of what we have achieved with this bill. Our common-sense approach will deliver a better future for British people, by making sure that what is illegal offline is illegal online.

“It puts protecting children first, enabling us to catch keyboard criminals and crack down on the heinous crimes they seek to commit.”

Under the new bill, social media firms will need to abide by the following rules:

  • remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place
  • prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content
  • enforce age limits and age-checking measures
  • ensure the risks and dangers posed to children on the largest social media platforms are more transparent
  • provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online

Internet users will also be given the option of filtering out harmful content, or things they don’t want to see online.

The biggest social media platforms will also have to stop their members being exposed to “dangerous fraudulent adverts by blocking and removing scams, or face Ofcom’s huge new fines”.

New laws are also included in the bill to tackle online fraud and violence against women and girls. This will make it easier to convict a person who shares intimate images without consent.

‘A much safer online world for children’

NSPCC chief executive, Sir Peter Wanless, said: “At the NSPCC, we hear from children about the completely unacceptable levels of abuse and harm they face online every day.

“That’s why we have campaigned strongly for change alongside brave survivors, families, young people and parliamentarians to ensure the legislation results in a much safer online world for children.

“Children can benefit greatly from life online. Tech companies can now seize the opportunity to embrace safety by design. The NSPCC is ready to help them listen to and understand the online experiences of their young users to help ensure every child feels safe and empowered online.”

‘The tech giants need to get their houses in order’

Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “The Online Safety Bill passing its final hurdle in Parliament is a very significant moment.

“Which? led the campaign for consumers to have stronger protections against potentially devastating scam adverts on social media platforms and search engines and these new laws should make a big difference by putting the onus on tech firms to stop them from appearing in the first place.

“The tech giants need to get their houses in order ahead of these new laws coming into force, while Ofcom must hold platforms to a high standard and stand ready to take enforcement action, including fines, against firms that fail to meet those standards.”

Stephen Almond, executive director of regulatory risk at the Information Commissioner’s Office, added: “The Online Safety Bill is the first step in making the UK the safest place in the world to be online. We are working hand-in-hand with Ofcom to ensure that organisations uphold both their online safety and data protection obligations to protect children and adults alike.”