The wait for the updated Online Safety Bill is almost over. This ground-breaking piece of legislation will be introduced in the Commons later today, and it isn't available to read before then, so for the moment we only have the Government's own announcement to go on.
The Government has been working hard hyping up this Bill, promising to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, while protecting all our rights and freedoms in the process.
The original Bill, published in May 2021, worried and confused the bejesus out of most lawyers and commentators who read it, and some are already concerned that the updated Bill will look took much like the original, but with other issues 'tacked on' to it. I am not alone in hoping the new Bill is not a kind of lipstick-on-a-pig or Frankenstein's Monster version of the original Bill.
In fairness, these concerns are based only on speculation at the moment, because at the time of writing we are still waiting for the updated Bill to be published. More detailed analysis will follow when that happens.
For now, I thought I would share my 'TOP 5 CHANGES TO LOOK OUT FOR'. These are things that we expect will have been added since the first draft was published in May last year.
Top 5 changes to look out for in the new Bill
1. Age gating for porn sites
A new requirement that all websites that publish or host pornography, including commercial sites, put robust checks in place to ensure users are 18 years old or over.
2. Paid-for scam ads will be brought into scope
This follows pressure from high profile consumer champions like Martin Lewis (founder of MoneySavingExpert.com), the Government says this change is intended to be a "major move to combat online fraud". It is not clear whether some content created by influencers could also come within the definition of 'paid-for content', i.e. where payment is between the influencer and brand, and no payment is made to the platform, but it is likely the draft Bill will seek to include influencers within its remit.
3. New measures to clamp down on anonymous trolls
The Government says such measures are necessary to give people more control over who can contact them and what they see online. The Joint Committee and DCMS Sub Committee tasked with scrutinising the original Bill did not seem as certain about this, saying that it is important to maintain some degree of anonymity. We will need to see what the measures are and how they will work, so we can see whether they balance all of these competing factors.
4. Cyberflashing will be criminalised
Some activities will be criminalised, such as 'cyberflashing'. Cyberflashing is where a person sends an unsolicited digital image of their genitals, or some other sexual image, to someone without their consent.
5. 'Legal but harmful' content to be decided by Parliament
Some types of harmful content will be illegal, and will need to be pre-emptively blocked or removed quickly by social media platforms and search engines. However, some content is lawful but harmful, and platforms and search engines will have obligations to deal quickly with that kind of content, too. It is hard enough to do this, given the volume of content that is published online every day/minute/second, but the previous Bill also seemed to expect social media platforms to decide what would amount to content that was legal but harmful, and for Ofcom to play a key role in that process by considering whether the platforms and search engines had got it right. It was all a recipe for disaster - it lacked accountability, and meant platforms were likely to over-correct, to reduce the risk of heavy fines being imposed on them and of senior directors being thrown in prison (yes, really). The new Bill will make Parliament responsible for deciding what types of content should be considered 'legal but harmful' - though the ultimate threat of large fines and prosecution will remain.
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