It’s been nearly a year since the British Parliament introduced the Online Safety Bill which seeks to hold top tech executives and social media big bosses accountable for repeated breaches of their duty to keep younger users safe and protect children against harmful online content.
After some major back and forth since the bill was first introduced back in March 2022, and seeing three new prime ministers taking the seat, current PM Rishi Sunak has now managed to pressure a group of 50 Conservative MPs to approve the Online Safety Bill.
New amendments to the bill would see that those held liable will face up to two years in jail if social media platforms are found to repeatedly fail the protection of children and underage users.
The Online Safety Bill aims to make the UK one of the safest places in the world for online users. With the announcement of new amendments, new offenses have been added that make it even more justifiable to hold top tech executives accountable for destroying evidence and failing to attend or provide false information in one-on-one interviews with the country’s internet provider, Ofcom.
In a statement given to CNBC last year by the former U.K. Digital Minister Nadine Dorries says “Tech firms haven’t been held to account when harm, abuse, and criminal behavior have run riot on their platforms [..] Instead they have been left to mark their homework.”
Since the statement, Paul Scully has been sworn in as the new Digital Minister and is expected to deliver a statement on the final outcomes of the new amendments.
With parliament now striking a deal, and Sunak continuing his fight for improving the online space and social media networks within the UK. The argument over online safety and child protection has come a long way, as government entities around the world and private organizations have criticized social media platforms for allowing harmful content to be shared on their platforms.
It’s not just Conservatives that have been backing the introduction of the bill, the Labour Party has also shown its support in recent weeks.
According to an interview with shadow culture secretary, Lucy Powell, “Labour has been calling for stronger criminal sanctions for months, however, the enforcement is now over a narrower set of measures after the government gutted much of the bill before Christmas.”
While there has been some divide over the outcomes of criminal offenses, the Labour Party has vowed its backing to make social media executives face jail time for not being able to comply with new regulations.
Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with the introduction of the new bill and its legal proceedings. Rebecca MacKinnon, Vice President and Global Advocacy for The Wikimedia Foundation, a not-for-profit online organization said in an interview with the BBC that the adjusted amendments in the Online Safety Bill will infringe and limit the “freedom of expression.”
MacKinnon continued to say that new changes to the Online Safety Bill would not only be a threat to big corporations but public interest websites such as Wikipedia.
The not-for-profit encyclopedia which is written and edited by thousands of volunteers around the world is looking to corner the new adjustments of the bill, as MacKinnon says that the UK Parliament should align itself with the EU Digital Service Act. MacKinnon is arguing that the Digital Services Act helps to differentiate between centralized content carried out by employees, and content moderated by community volunteers.
MacKinnon’s argument isn’t alone, as cybersecurity and economic experts suggest that the introduction of the new bill would limit investment from foreign companies, and restrict the access of online content to millions of online users.
While Sunak is powering forward to introduce new legislation within the coming months, some are worried that the decision to introduce the Online Safety Bill too fast could have greater repercussions in the long term.