Social media sites will no longer be required to remove material described as “legal but harmful” as part of the government’s proposed online safety plans.
That Online Safety Law amended and the controversial – but crucial – measure removed before returning to Parliament next week after repeated delays.
The government said it is making the changes amid fears that the original plans meant the biggest platforms would have had to remove not only illegal content but also any material it said was legal but potentially harmful.
Freedom of expression activists have claimed governments or tech platforms could use the law to censor certain content, but charities and opposition parties said it was an important step to protect children.
Platforms are now required to remove illegal content and any material that violates their own terms of service.
But instead platforms By removing legal but harmful duties, they must provide adults with tools to hide certain content they do not want to see — including content that does not reach the criminal threshold but could be harmful, such as glorifying eating disorders, misogyny and many more other forms of abuse.
The government calls it a “triple shield” of online protection that also allows for freedom of expression.
However, the Labor Party and the leader of the Samaritans have strongly criticized the change.
Samaritans chief executive Julie Bentley said removing the “legal but harmful” requirement was a “major step backwards”.
“Of course, children should have the strongest protection, but the harmful effects that this type of content has don’t end when you turn 18,” she said.
“Increasing the controls that people have is no substitute for holding sites accountable through the law, and that feels a lot like the government snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”
Move will ’empower abusers, COVID deniers and scammers’
Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell said it was a “major weakening” of the law, adding: “Replacing harm prevention with an emphasis on free speech undermines the very purpose of this law and will embolden abusers, COVID deniers and scammers.” who feel empowered to be successful online.”
Children Forced to Serious Forms of Sexual Abuse on the Internet, Finds Report
The government will also update the law to increase children’s online safety by increasing accountability and transparency, as is natural.
Tech firms must publish summaries of risk assessments related to potential harm to children on their websites, show how they enforce age limits for users and publish details of enforcement actions taken against them by Ofcom, the sector’s new regulator.
Under the updated rules, platforms are also prohibited from removing a user or account unless they have clearly violated the site’s terms of service or the law.
“Young people are protected”
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan said: “Unregulated social media has been harming our children for too long and it must end.
“I will bring a strengthened online safety bill to Parliament that will enable parents to see and act on the dangers websites pose to young people.
“It is also clear of any threat that tech companies or future governments could use the laws as a license to censor legitimate views.
“Young people will be protected, crime eradicated and adults given control over what they see and engage in online.
“We now have a binary choice: pass these measures into law and make things better, or fight the status quo and put more young lives at risk.”
Other updates to the bill were announced last week, including Criminalizing the promotion of self-harm and of “downblousing” and sharing pornographic deepfakes.
More amendments will soon be tabled to improve protections for women and girls online, the government confirmed.
The Victims’ Ombudsman, Domestic Violence Ombudsman and Children’s Ombudsman will also be included as legal advisers in the bill, meaning Ofcom will have to consult with them when drafting new codes of conduct for tech companies to ensure they comply with the bill.
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, said this would ensure that “children’s views and experiences are fully understood”, adding that she was “determined to get this legislation through Parliament”.