The UK’s Online Safety Bill (OSB), targeting social media companies’ user safety, has been passed after six years of deliberation. The legislation mandates platforms to protect from harmful content and remove illegal material. Critics argue it curtails free speech and gives excessive power to tech giants and regulators. Companies face fines up to £18m for non-compliance. 


The Online Safety Bill, targeting social media firms’ user safety responsibilities, has successfully passed its final Parliamentary debate. This legislation mandates platforms to promptly remove illegal content and safeguard children from harmful material. Non-compliance could lead to substantial fines. Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan praised the bill’s comprehensive nature, noting that tech firms are already adapting in anticipation.


The bill’s journey began six years ago, inspired by the idea of enhancing internet safety. Prof Lorna Woods, one of the bill’s conceptualizers, expressed concerns over its complexity, fearing potential legal challenges by tech giants. The bill’s effectiveness will be gauged by its ability to prevent harmful content, like what Molly Russell encountered before her tragic death.


Critics argue the bill threatens freedom of expression, with tech companies determining content legality. Lawyer Graham Smith described it as “a deeply misconceived piece of legislation” that might jeopardize legitimate speech. Messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal have expressed concerns over potential requirements to inspect encrypted messages for harmful content.


Post royal assent, Ofcom will oversee the bill’s enforcement, drafting codes of conduct and imposing penalties for non-compliance. Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom’s chief executive, emphasized the bill’s significance in ensuring online safety. The bill’s success hinges on platforms being more user-responsive and addressing safety concerns.

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