Online Safety Bill to become law as government clamps down on harmful social media content

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Online Safety Bill is set to become law as the government clamps down on harmful social media content.

The Online Safety Bill will soon become law as part of the government's mission to clamp down on harmful social media content. The bill has passed its last parliamentary hurdle in the House of Lords on Tuesday (September 19) after years of delay.

The main component of legislation attempts to control online content in order to protect users, particularly children, and to place the onus on social media companies to shield users from things like abusive comments, bullying, and pornography.

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Despite the fact that the concept was first conceived in a white paper in 2019, it has been a long and difficult path to transform it into law, with delays and controversies over topics like freedom of speech and privacy.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan told Sky News: "The Online Safety Bill is a game-changing piece of legislation. Today, this government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online."

The bill will require social media companies to remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place, including content promoting self-harm. Other illegal content it wants to crack down on includes selling drugs and weapons, inciting or planning terrorism, sexual exploitation, hate speech, scams, and revenge porn.

Communications regulator Ofcom will be largely responsible for enforcing the bill.

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Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “Today is a major milestone in the mission to create a safer life online for children and adults in the UK. Everyone at Ofcom feels privileged to be entrusted with this important role, and we’re ready to start implementing these new laws.

“Very soon after the Bill receives Royal Assent, we’ll consult on the first set of standards that we’ll expect tech firms to meet in tackling illegal online harms, including child sexual exploitation, fraud and terrorism.”

Online Safety Bill is set to become law as the government clamps down on harmful social media content.Online Safety Bill is set to become law as the government clamps down on harmful social media content.
Online Safety Bill is set to become law as the government clamps down on harmful social media content. | Getty Images

Under the bill, social media bosses who fail to comply with the new rules can face large fines or even jail under the crackdown. The bill has also created new criminal offences, including cyber-flashing and the sharing of "deepfake" pornography.

The bill, however, has sparked concerns about how content is monitored, how social media companies will verify the age of users, and potential threats to the security of encrypted messaging platforms and the privacy of users.

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