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Online Safety Bill bolstered to better protect children and empower adults

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Government amendments to the Online Safety Bill will bolster protections for children, empower adults and make it easier to put online abusers behind bars. 

Children and adults across the UK will be better protected by the pioneering Online Safety Bill thanks to several critical amendments made by the Government as it passes through the House of Lords.

Planned rules to prevent children from viewing pornography, content that promotes suicide, self-harm, or eating disorders have been bolstered, supporting the Prime Minister’s commitment of building a better future for our children and grandchildren. The changes also mean that the laws protecting children from encountering harmful content and activity online — as well as the codes and guidance issued by the regulator — will come into force as quickly as possible after the Online Safety Bill has passed.

Updates to the Bill will hold services that publish or allow pornography on their sites to a new higher standard on the age verification or age estimation tools they use, meaning they will have to ensure that these are highly effective in establishing whether a user is a child or not. New measures will also hold top tech executives personally responsible for keeping children safe on their platforms.

Minister for Technology and the Digital Economy Paul Scully said: 

“This Government will not allow the lives of our children to be put at stake whenever they go online; whether that is through facing abuse or viewing harmful content that could go on to have a devastating impact on their lives.

“To prevent any further tragedy and build a better future for our children, we are acting robustly and with urgency to make the Online Safety Bill the global standard for protecting our children.” 

The changes will also help to address difficulties that coroners and bereaved parents have experienced when trying to access their loved ones’ social media data. The amendments brought in today will enable Ofcom to obtain information on a child’s social media use if it is requested by a coroner, which will help families and law enforcement understand if online activity contributed to their death in any way. The largest companies will also have to have clear policies for disclosing such data, and mechanisms for responding to disclosure requests from parents or guardians.

The move comes after working in collaboration with the Bereaved Parents for Online Safety group and Baroness Kidron of the House of Lords.

Today’s amendments include further measures to empower adults to take control of the content they may see on the largest platforms. The largest platforms will be required to ask adult users whether they want to use tools to help them avoid content such as content that promotes self-harm or eating disorders, or content that is abusive on the basis of race or religion.

While the Bill previously required the largest services to offer these tools to adult users, the Bill will now require services to proactively offer them to their adult users. These tools cannot be hidden in the settings menu and must be put in front of users so they are able to easily make a choice and take control.

Other reforms included in amendments to the Bill include: 

  • Action on harms from app stores: Ofcom will research the role of app stores in allowing children to access harmful content, requiring firms to take action to reduce risk where necessary.
  • Boosting media literacy: Ofcom will be tasked with improving the general public’s ability to identify disinformation and evaluate trusted sources of information. The regulator will need to publish a strategy every three years on how it plans to deliver this.
  • Four new revenge porn offences: A two-year maximum sentence offence for threatening to share intimate images is one of the four new offences announced by the Lord Chancellor earlier this week, more information is available here.  
  • Protections for women and girls: A new requirement for Ofcom to publish guidance which summarises, in one clear place, measures that services can take to reduce the risk of harm to women and girls, and which demonstrates best practice. Ofcom will need to consult with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims Commissioner when producing the guidance, to ensure it reflects the voices of victims, as well as the views of experts on this important issue.

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