On 17 March 2022, the Government published its much-anticipated re-draft of the Online Safety Bill, following various announcements over the last few months as to new features to be added to the Bill. We intend to publish a more comprehensive analysis of the latest draft in due course, but here's a quick overview of the key changes (and you can read our previous publications and blogs on the Bill here, here, and here).
- Social media platforms will only be required to remove 'legal but harmful' content which has been specifically designated as such by the Government (through secondary legislation) and approved by Parliament, which it is hoped will make it easier for regulated service providers to determine what content to take down and prevent over-removal of content at the expense of freedom of expression.
- Paid-for scam advertising on regulated services has been brought within the scope of the Bill (see our recent blog on this).
- Robust age verification requirements have been introduced for websites which publish or host pornography.
- A new cyberflashing offence has been added into the Bill.
- Ofcom has been given greater powers to force companies to use proactive technologies and more effective tools in complying with their content moderation duties.
- A new provision has been added requiring companies to report any child sexual exploitation and abuse content they detect on their platforms to the National Crime Agency.
- The regime in relation to liability of corporate officers under the Bill has been broadened out to cover a range of additional offences relating to failures to cooperate with Ofcom in its enforcement activities, and corporate officers can now face prosecution or jail time within two months of the Bill becoming law (as opposed to the two year period under the original draft).
The new draft of the Bill certainly goes some way towards addressing concerns about: (i) the practicalities for regulated service providers of complying with the duties of care and content moderation requirements contained in the Bill and associated risks to freedom of expression (in particular in relation to who decides what constitutes harmful content); and (ii) perceived limitations of the original draft in not addressing fraud and other forms of online harm such as revenge porn. However, the secondary legislation and codes of practice to be developed by Ofcom are eagerly awaited in order for regulated service providers to get a full picture of what their new compliance obligations will look like under the Bill.
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