Online Safety Bill amendment targets state-backed disinformation

The Government has tabled the amendment to the new internet safety laws.
The Government has tabled the amendment to the new internet safety laws.

Social media platforms will have to proactively look for and remove disinformation from foreign state actors which aims to harm the UK, under a proposed amendment to forthcoming online safety laws.

The Government is to table an amendment which will make “foreign interference” a designated priority offence under the Online Safety Bill, and comes in part in response to Russia’s activity around its invasion of Ukraine.

This will require that social media and other platforms will have a legal duty to proactively identify and remove state-sponsored or state-linked disinformation which looks to interfere with the UK.

This would include tackling material from fake accounts set up by individuals or groups acting on behalf of a foreign state which is designed to influence or disrupt democratic or legal processes, the Government said.

The amendment would also require platforms to tackle the spread of hacked information designed to undermine democratic institutions.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “The invasion of Ukraine has yet again shown how readily Russia can and will weaponise social media to spread disinformation and lies about its barbaric actions, often targeting the very victims of its aggression.

“We cannot allow foreign states or their puppets to use the internet to conduct hostile online warfare unimpeded.

“That’s why we are strengthening our new internet safety protections to make sure social media firms identify and root out state-backed disinformation.”

The Government said the amendment will mean platforms will need to carry out  risk assessments for content which would be illegal under the foreign interference offence, and put in place systems and processes to mitigate the chances of users encountering such content.

The amendment will link the National Security Bill with the Online Safety Bill, and a new foreign interference offence created by the former will be added to the list of priority offences within the Bill for new internet safety rules.

“Online information operations are now a core part of state threats activity,” Security Minister Damian Hinds said.

“The aim can be variously to spread untruths, confuse, undermine confidence in democracy, or sow division in society.

“Disinformation is often seeded by multiple fake personas, with the aim of getting real users, unwittingly, then to ‘share’ it.

“We need the big online platforms to do more to identify and disrupt this sort of co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour. That is what this proposed change in the law is about.”