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  • NETMEDIA International

Online Safety Bill Targets Social Media Giants

Changes to proposed online safety bill require companies such as Twitter and Facebook to take proactive steps and add more criminal offences.

Online platforms are to be required to take proactive steps to prevent users from being exposed to harmful materials under an update to proposed online safety laws.

Companies could be fined up to 10 percent of their global turnover if they fail to adhere to the regulations.

Previously social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter were obliged to remove harmful or illegal materials when they were reported, but the bill would now legally require them to act in advance to filter out such content. The bill now clarifies what materials platforms must remove, including fraud, the sale of illegal drugs and weapons, the promotion or suicide and human trafficking.

Criminal offences

The government has also added three new criminal offences to the online safety bill, meaning that posting “genuinely threatening” or “knowingly false” information online could lead to a jail term.

“Genuinely threatening” communications would include threats to kill or cause financial harm, coercive or controlling behaviour online and online stalking, while “knowingly false” communications would include messages deliberately sent to inflict harm, such as a hoax bomb threat.

Prosecution would, however, require proof that the sender was aware the information was false.

The third criminal offence added to the bill is that of sending “harmful communications”, such as a domestic abuser following a victim to their new premises and sending them a photograph of their front door.

But offensive content with no intent to cause serious distress would not be illegal.

The bill has also been revised to allow Ofcom, the proposed regulator, to take faster action.

Legal ‘clarity’

The government altered the bill, which is expected to be introduced to parliament in the next few months, after three separate parliamentary committee reports warned it needed to be strengthened and to offer more clarity for tech firms.

“We are listening to MPs, charities and campaigners who have wanted us to strengthen the legislation, and today’s changes mean we will be able to bring the full weight of the law against those who use the internet as a weapon to ruin people’s lives and do so quicker and more effectively,” said culture secretary Nadine Dorries.

Damian Collins MP, the Conservative chair of a joint committee of MPs and peers that reviewed the bill, said the changes would provide “clarity” for social media firms.

“These changes will give social media businesses more clarity on what’s expected of them, and users more certainty that they will be protected, especially children,” he said.

“The prime minister made clear that he wanted this bill to be introduced in this session of parliament, and I look forward to speaking in favour of it soon.”

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