online safety bill

So, what exactly is the Online Safety Bill and how will it affect me?

Rules could be tighter on trolls, cyberflashing and fake news

People can be strange on the internet. Understatement of the century, right? Pretty much all of us have been on the receiving end of someone’s weird actions online and thought – “you wouldn’t get away with this in real life.” Cyberflashing, misinformation, stalking and abuse have each been considered “normal” consequences of opening up your laptop or browsing through social media. Until now.

The UK’s draft Online Safety Bill has ambitiously promised to tackle these issues by regulating social media and “big tech” (such as Facebook and Twitter), according to BBC News. It’ll also mean senior management at these companies will be held criminally accountable for things like online scamming and sexual abuse.

“For too long, big tech has gotten away with being the land of the lawless,” Damian Collins, chairman of the committee issuing the report said. “The era of self-regulation for big tech has come to an end.”

The proposed new regulations have the entire internet divided. While some are welcoming tighter rules with open arms, others believe stricter policing anywhere could lead to a slippery slope.

It’s hard to make a decision until you know all the facts. So, these are the things that’ll change if the Online Safety Bill comes into effect:

Social media providers will have more responsibilities

User-to-user services – AKA social media providers – will need to take necessary precautions to reduce the rate of illegal activity in their sites and apps. They’ll have a new responsibility to protect their users from being exposed to extreme content, like child pornography and scams, and prevent them from going viral.

Different rules are laid out for different services – tighter restrictions will be placed on websites mainly used by children. The regulations include carrying out risk assessments and checking reports to make sure illegal content isn’t slipping through the net.

If providers don’t comply, they could be fined up to £18 million by Ofcom (or 10 per cent of their revenue , whichever number is higher).

Anyone who threatens violence online could be sent to prison

met police

Photo via Unsplash

A lot of people have received threats on social media – and the current system means people often get away with it. If the Online Safety Bill comes into effect, anyone caught sending threats to someone (or about someone without directly @’ing them) could receive up to five years in prison.

Spreading and creating ‘fake news’ could also earn you some jail time


Photo via Yura Fresh on Unsplash

The recent uproars about Joe Rogan and the Queen’s “death” led people to question the amount of fake news readily accessible on social media. Under the proposed False Communications Act – an offence which would come under the Online Safety Bill – spreading misinformation could land you 51 weeks inside.

Sexting could be de-regulated


Photo via Julio Tirado on Unsplash

Nudes and lewds exchanged between two consenting adults have been “over-criminalised,” according to the draft. While the stigma surrounding sexting is slowly dying away, you could still see life-changing consequences if you’re caught sending nudes to your significant other. The bill wishes to place more emphasis on sexual offences like revenge porn (leaking nudes and explicit content without the consent of everyone involved) and cyberflashing (sending unsolicited sexual content).

Revenge porn has been illegal since 2015 – whereas cyberflashing only became a criminal offence earlier this month.

Users will need to verify themselves before signing up for social media

In a highly controversial move, users will eventually need to verify themselves via an acceptable form of ID (potentially a government-issued card) before signing up for a social media account. The regulation was added to prevent anonymous trolling – a regular occurrence on platforms like Twitter. Social media providers will reserve the right to block unverified users without warning.

The decision to include this within the Online Safety Bill has been up for debate over the last couple of years. While people like Katie Price have spoken out in support of it – many others feel like the verification process could put people in danger. Members of the LGBTQ+ community who aren’t out to friends and family, for example, may be indirectly implicated.

Other crimes could be regulated

User-to-user providers will be forced to clamp down on: The sale and promotion of weapons and drugs, human trafficking/”pimping,” threats made against public figures, stalking, domestic abuse and other instances of violence against women and girls (VAWG).

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Featured image via Victoria Heath on Unsplash before edits.