The Online Safety Act has today (Thursday 26 October) received Royal Assent, placing increased legal duties on social media platforms.
The new laws take a zero-tolerance approach to protecting children from online harm, claims the UK Government, while empowering adults with more choices over what their children can see online.
The Act places legal responsibility on tech companies to prevent and rapidly remove illegal content, including terrorism and revenge pornography. They will also have to stop children seeing material that is harmful to them such as bullying, content promoting self-harm and eating disorders, and pornography.
If social media platforms do not comply with these rules, Ofcom could fine them up to £18 million or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is biggest – meaning fines handed down to the biggest platforms could reach billions of pounds. Their bosses could even face prison.
Says Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan:
“Today will go down as an historic moment that ensures the online safety of British society not only now, but for decades to come.
I am immensely proud of the work that has gone into the Online Safety Act from its very inception to it becoming law today. The Bill protects free speech, empowers adults and will ensure that platforms remove illegal content.
“At the heart of this Bill, however, is the protection of children. I would like to thank the campaigners, parliamentarians, survivors of abuse and charities that have worked tirelessly, not only to get this Act over the finishing line, but to ensure that it will make the UK the safest place to be online in the world.”
The government has also strengthened provisions to address violence against women and girls, it claims. Through the Act, it will be easier to convict someone who shares intimate images without consent and new laws will further criminalise the non-consensual sharing of intimate deepfakes.
Says NSPCC Chief Executive, Sir Peter Wanless:
“Having an Online Safety Act on the statute book is a watershed moment and will mean that children up and down the UK are fundamentally safer in their everyday lives.
“Thanks to the incredible campaigning of abuse survivors and young people and the dedicated hard work of Parliamentarians and Ministers, tech companies will be legally compelled to protect children from sexual abuse and avoidable harm.
“The NSPCC will continue to ensure there is a rigorous focus on children by everyone involved in regulation. Companies should be acting now, because the ultimate penalties for failure will be eye-watering fines and, crucially, criminal sanctions.
Adds Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy:
“Which? led the campaign for consumers to have stronger protections against scam adverts on social media platforms and search engines that can have devastating financial and emotional consequences for victims. These new Online Safety laws are a major step forward in the fight back against fraud by forcing tech firms to step up and take more responsibility for stopping people being targeted by fraudulent online adverts.