What's going on with the Online Safety Bill, and does my business need to do anything?

Published on:
April 2, 2023

In today's digital world, children and adults are increasingly exposed to the potential dangers of the internet. As technology continues to develop, robust measures must be taken to ensure that people are kept safe online. The Online Safety Bill, which is currently going through the parliamentary process, presents an innovative set of laws to safeguard internet users. The introduction of this bill is welcomed by many. In this article, we explain what the bill entails and what your business needs to do to comply.

What is the Online Safety Bill?

The Online Safety Bill is a piece of legislation that aims to tackle harmful content and behaviour on the internet.

With the introduction of this bill, companies that provide online sharing and interaction services will now be held more accountable for their users' safety, bringing an unprecedented level of security to their platforms. It will require companies such as social media platforms, search engines and messaging services to prevent the spread of harmful material via their services actively.

One of the critical aspects of the bill is its focus on malicious content. This includes anything that promotes terrorism, child sexual abuse or extreme violence. The bill also addresses harmful behaviour, such as cyberbullying and harassment. Once introduced, online platforms will be required to have measures in place to prevent this type of behaviour, and individuals who engage in it could face criminal charges.

The Online Safety Bill is still going through the legislative process and may be subject to changes. However, when the new laws are in place, it will significantly impact how online services function in the UK and compel companies to take active steps to guarantee the safety and security of users.

What does the Online Safety Bill mean for websites/platforms?

The passage of the Online Safety Bill will have significant implications for websites and platforms. Under the proposed bill, platforms will need to take certain steps to protect their users from illegal content, such as hate speech, violence, harassment, self-harm and suicide, or child-abuse material.

It’s essential that organisations assess the impact of their services on their user base and analyse the risks of any potential harm from the content provided. And constantly monitor and update them to ensure that users remain safe and protected.

These steps may include:

  • Assessing any risk that may be inherent in a site's algorithms as well as potential risks across multiple platforms where users may be exposed to potentially harmful content.
  • Verifying user identities where appropriate.
  • Screening content for possible violations and taking swift action when any violations are found.
  • Implementing systems and processes as part of a risk mitigation strategy to ensure effective reporting for any concerning content, particularly material that could be considered a criminal offence.
  • Providing clear, age-appropriate terms and conditions regarding the company’s acceptable use policy and ensuring that these are followed

In addition to developing policies and procedures to combat abuse and harassment, the Bill will also place legal liability on the operators of websites and platforms if they fail to take adequate steps to protect their users. This could mean increased costs for websites as they attempt to comply with the Bill's requirements, as well as potential legal liability for website owners if their users are abused or harassed on their platform.

What are the implications of non-compliance?

The Online Safety Bill will be enforced by the regulator Ofcom, who will issue fines of up to £18 million or 10% of worldwide turnover for non-compliance. These penalties will act as a strong incentive for websites and platforms to take greater responsibility for the content that appears on their sites and apps.

By introducing new criminal investigatory and enforcement powers, Ofcom could potentially gain unprecedented access to websites, with authority to compel sites to provide information, witnesses to attend interviews, as well as powers of entry, inspection and audit.

Those who fail to comply with information requests from Ofcom could face legal sanctions, including senior managers. Ofcom will also be able to approach UK courts for necessary action, such as withdrawing services or blocking site access.

What will the Online Safety Bill mean for my business?

The Online Safety Bill is likely to have a significant impact on businesses, both large and small, and it is important to take steps to ensure compliance.

The Bill will require businesses to implement measures to protect users from online harms such as cyberbullying, online harassment, and content that could cause physical or psychological harm. Businesses will also be required to take reasonable steps to investigate any user complaints they receive regarding online abuse or inappropriate content. They must then report any breaches of their policies to the relevant authorities.

Adapting processes and procedures to comply with online safety laws could be a time-consuming process, as well as one that requires investment. For example, staff may need to be trained to be aware of the new rules and how to spot potential risks.

Although additional costs may be involved in adapting processes and procedures, it's worth remembering that these investments could go a long way towards ensuring your users' safety.

How should my business be preparing for the Online Safety Bill?

If your business operates online, you must prepare to take the necessary steps to stay compliant with this new legislation. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Stay informed - It’s essential to stay up-to-date with any new developments regarding the Online Safety Bill. Monitor official channels such as government websites and industry publications to ensure you always have the most accurate and up-to-date information.
  • Conduct a risk assessment - Conducting a comprehensive risk assessment of your business will allow you to identify any areas where compliance may be an issue.
  • Review and update policies - The introduction of the Online Safety Bill also means that existing policies may need to be reviewed and updated to remain compliant. This includes reviewing any existing terms and conditions, privacy policies, website content and data-handling processes to ensure they meet the new regulations' requirements.
  • Train employees - Your employees must know how their roles relate to online safety regulations. Consider providing them with training sessions on how they should handle customer data in line with government guidelines and informing them of their responsibilities related to online safety practices.
  • Engage with stakeholders - Engage with external stakeholders, such as industry representatives, to gain valuable insights into best practices when working within a regulated environment. Doing so will help ensure all parties involved comply with relevant laws and regulations governing online safety practices.

By taking these steps now, you can make sure your business is prepared for any changes that may arise due to the new online safety standards legislation.

Should I work with a lawyer to understand my obligations to the Online Safety Bill?

As the Online Safety Bill makes its way through Parliament, you may be left wondering about your obligations. While it may be tempting to rely on government guidance or online resources simply, it’s unlikely to take into account all of the nuances of your business. By working with a lawyer, you can ensure that you are fully aware of your obligations and how these apply to your business.

A lawyer will help you navigate any potential legal issues that may arise under the Online Safety Bill and help you take all necessary steps to comply with the latest legislation and protect yourself from legal action.

For more information and advice on the Online Safety Bill and how to ensure your business is compliant, our legal team is here to help. We can discuss the best approach for your business and provide tailored guidance and clear direction on how best to meet your responsibilities.


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