online bill
(Photo : Pexels/cottonbro) Online Safety Bill UK

The UK government has published a safety-focused plan to regulate online content and speech. The new plan is set to protect children from online abuse and harmful content.

UK Online Safety Bill

The new Online Safety Bill has been in the works for years, the first draft included age verification for accessing online sexual contents.

The plan's goal is to protect children from being exposed to harmful and inappropriate content online, but it was criticized as unworkable, so it was dropped.The government stated that it would focus on introducing a more comprehensive legislation to regulate online harmsAnd now it is possible that the government has done just that.

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UK's Online Safety Bill has 145 pages and it can be found on the gov.uk website, together with 123 pages of explanatory notes and a 146-page impact assessment.

The draft legislation imposes a duty of care on digital service providers to moderate user-generated content in a way that prevents the users from being exposed to harmful contents online, according to TechCrunch.

The government calls the plan groundbreaking and claims that it will start a new age of accountability for tech, and bring fairness and accountability to the online world.

However, critics warn that the bill will harm freedom of expression as it will encourage platforms to over-censor, while also creating major legal and operational headaches for digital businesses that will discourage the progress of tech innovation.

The bill was criticized by a joint committee of MPs before a final version is formally introduced to Parliament for debate this year.

It is not clear how long it will take before it hits the statute books, but the UK government has a massive majority in parliament, so public opposition may not affect the decision of the bill eventually becoming a law.

Safety and Democracy

The Department for Digital, Media, Culture, and Sports, or DCMS, said in a press release that the landmark laws will keep the children safe, stop racial hate, and protect democracy online.

The laws are set to apply widely, not just to social media sites or tech giants but to other websites, apps, and services that host user-generated content, or allow people to talk to others online.

Services will face a legal requirement to remove or limit the spread of illegal and harmful content, with the risk of major penalties for failing in this new bill of care toward online users. There will also be requirements for reporting all child sexual exploitation content to law enforcement.

UK's comms regulator, Ofcom, which is responsible for regulating the broadcast media and telecoms sectors, is set to become the UK internet's content watchdog as well under the Online Safety Bill.

Ofcom will have powers to sanction companies that fail in the new duty of care toward users by hitting them with fines of up to £18 million ($25 million) or 10% of the annual global turnover, whichever is higher.

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Written by Sophie Webster

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