‘Internet safety for all' as Government moves ahead with new rules on tech firms

Social networks face huge fines that could run into billions if they fail to follow Online Safety Bill.

The Government has inched closer to making tech giants accountable for the content on their platforms as plans for long-delayed online safety laws were set out in the Queen’s Speech on Tuesday.

Under the draft Online Safety Bill, major regulation of the internet will be introduced for the first time, requiring social networks to tackle illegal content on their service and clearly set out in their terms what content is and is not acceptable.

As previously announced, Ofcom will be made regulator, and given new powers to uphold and enforce the rules, including the ability to issue large fines of up to £18 million or 10% of annual global turnover – whichever is greater.

For social media giants such as Facebook, this could mean fines of several billion pounds.

The Queen’s Speech to officially reopen Parliament said the Government will “lead the way in ensuring internet safety for all, especially for children, whilst harnessing the benefits of a free, open and secure internet”.

As part of the plans, major platforms will be expected to set out clearly in their terms and conditions what legal content is unacceptable and enforce them consistently.

The Government also wants tech giants to ensure effective user reporting systems for harmful content are in place.

Alison Trew, senior child safety online policy officer at the NSPCC, said: “The confirmation of an Online Safety Bill in the Queen’s Speech is a significant step towards creating a Duty of Care for children in order to protect young users at a time when they face unprecedented risk online.

“The Government must learn from other regulated industries to ensure the Bill delivers an ambitious and effective framework for Ofcom to hold tech firms to account if their products cause avoidable harm to children.

“Ultimately legislation will be judged on whether it prevents harm and abuse, and works in the interest of children rather than simply embedding the status quo with regulation that is palatable only to big tech firms.”

Fact checking charity Full Fact said the move is “a necessary and overdue response”.

“A year of conspiracy theories and false health advice has shown the threat bad information poses to all our lives,” the charity’s chief executive, Will Moy, said.

“We cannot go on relying on the internet companies to make decisions on online misinformation without independent scrutiny and transparency.”

“The Government’s Online Safety Bill is a necessary and overdue response. But with fundamental rights at stake, it must be closely scrutinised by Parliament.

“The Bill should include measures to safeguard UK democracy and counter dangerous false information, while protecting – and enhancing – freedom of expression.”

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