UKSIC calls for online safety bill improvements as reporting service’s annual report highlights need for stronger victim support

21 Feb 2023 UK SIC

The UK Safer Internet Centre (UKSIC) believes data from one of its services has highlighted the need for stronger victim support in the online safety bill.

An annual report, which showcases the work of the Report Harmful Content service, found that between 1 April 2021 and 30 November 2022, practitioners dealt with 58% more reports of legal but harmful content than in the previous 18 months – with a total of 2,195 reports being received.

Of these, 705 cases required additional support from other services with 8% of these cases being escalated to industry partners for further action. When the service reported content, on behalf of victims, it was successful in removal rate of 87% of online content. This is an example of how the impartial dispute resolution process works.

The data also pinpoints, of all the legal but harmful content reports, how bullying and harassment is still hugely prevalent online. There were 754 reported cases to our practitioners with an additional 532 relating to pornography. The service’s report button was also downloaded approximately 11,000 times during the 18-month period.

Responding to the figures, director for the UKSIC, David Wright, said: “This report clearly shows that people being subjected to this kind of legal but harmful content online are in desperate need of support. We see thousands of complaints made across a wide range of online services and believe it’s crucial that victims are given the platform to challenge decisions made by companies that they potentially disagree with. We believe the best way to do this is by strengthening the current impartial dispute resolution processes already in place.

“However, as it’s currently written, the online safety bill is set to replace platform regulations, that will actually remove those obligations that organisations already have to their users – dismantling the safeguards we currently enjoy. If this is not rectified, then the figures we see in this report will only increase.

“There also needs to be a wider understanding of the harms adults face online – as this isn’t solely an issue faced by young people. We are seeing an increasing number of adults stumbling across legal but harmful content on the internet and removing those pathways for them to successfully see this kind of material taken down is counter intuitive.

“We are in constant dialogue with representatives from across the political spectrum and within industry to obtain the support we need to see these changes implemented. We urge them to see sense in inputting this pivotal piece of legislation.”

Harmful Content Manager, Kathryn Tremlett said: “Without this key piece of legislation in place, we can expect an unprecedented rise in the level of online harm. Ensuring that actions are in place to effectively protect individuals when they go online has been a long process but one that has represented a positive developmental change for online safety throughout the years. Now, the Government is looking to remove it. This essential process has continued to protect individuals against a multitude of harm so it is deeply worrying to see it disregarded without consideration for what damaging implications it will ultimately bring. This giant step backwards plants considerable doubt and concern for the future whilst highlighting alarming gaps within the current Online Safety Bill. We hope the obligation for platforms in scope to provide impartial dispute resolution will be reinstated and prioritised with immediate effect. The Bill should first and foremost prioritise the safety of individuals – and currently, it does not.”

If you would like to read more about the research from Report Harmful Content, you can download the full report here.

The Report Harmful Content platform, which is hosted by the UK Safer Internet Centre and partner organisation SWGfl, allows anyone over 13 to obtain advice around reporting online harm whilst following up and escalating concerns that have not been resolved satisfactorily by industry partners.

To discover more about the service and the support it provides, please visit the Report Harmful Content website.

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