Industry experts share concerns over Online Safety Bill

30 Nov 2022 UK SIC

A panel of industry experts, including members of the UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC), have shared their concerns over the incoming Online Safety Bill.

Worries over the removal of legislation concerning impartial dispute resolution were discussed during a question-and-answer session following an event at Meta’s offices in London this month (16 November).

The Online Safety Day, run by UKSIC partner charity SWGfl, explored the future of online safety and allowed industry experts to share advice and data with hundreds of attendees – both in person and online.

Director at the UK Safer Internet Centre, David Wright said: “The Bill has been many years in the making and it will look to bestow a duty of care on platforms. This duty of care is akin to the work going on in schools following the 2004 Education Act. Those of you who have been to a school recently will get a palpable sense of the discharge of that duty of care, whether that be taking the register or providing lanyards to visitors. We just want the same thing for the internet. If children are using a particular platform, why shouldn’t there be an obligation for that business to safeguard them?”

He continued: “There are also clear gaps in the Bill, particularly around impartial dispute resolution. As it stands the Bill is set to replace platform regulations, that will remove those obligations that organisations already have. It dismantles the safeguards that we currently enjoy. This seems counter-intuitive to us.”

CEO for Internet Matters, Carolyn Bunting MBE, was speaking at the event. She said: “The Online Safety Bill is a hugely complex piece of legislation, and one that is to be welcomed. It will rightly focus on illegal content, with the new regulator having enforcement powers for non-compliance. It is however critical that for children and young people the bill maintains its focus on legal but harmful content. This is less easily defined, harder to address, but incredibly important, as too often children are exposed to harmful content that can have a significant and lasting impact on their wellbeing.

Kathryn Tremlett manages the Report Harmful Content helpline for the UKSIC. She said the Bill is not currently designed to help individuals: “It is fair to say the Bill itself is focused on high level strategy and policy and not on victims – and it is important that is addressed. I have a real concern over the removal of impartial dispute resolution, and it needs to be maintained within this legislation. Fundamentally, to make the UK the safest place in the world to go online, the welfare of victims needs to be at the heart of the incoming Bill.”

Dave Miles is Director of Safety at Meta. He said it is important all stakeholders work together when it comes to regulation, including technology companies: “Through my work throughout Europe, I have seen first-hand the importance of the role of the regulator. It’s important to work with regulators to better understand what compliance looks like and have the space to develop the technologies and tools to deal with the harms as they evolve and materialize. It is also important to note that the UK is very unusual when it comes to its standing in this space and the breadth of stakeholders. I work across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and, as far as I am aware, we are fortunate enough to have the largest concentration of online safety expert organizations in the world. I hope the new regulator and the government consider the level of expertise at hand as, going forward, the level of experience and perspective that we collectively have available, will help make the Bill even more effective going forward.”

The Bill’s progression through Parliament, which currently sits at report stage in the House of Commons, is due to resume next month.

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