Will the Online Safety Bill make the internet safer for children and young people?
19 January, 2023
On Tuesday 17 January 2023, the Online Safety Bill completed its passage through the House of Commons. The Bill is the first attempt to put duties on social media companies to protect children and young people online.
It has been almost three years since we published our report on Technology use and the mental health of children and young people, and young people still do not have the protections they need. So, this legislation is very welcome- though long overdue.
The Bill was first introduced on 17 March 2022 and follows a Conservative manifesto pledge to make the internet a safer place for children and young people. Since its introduction, the Bill has been subject to a number of delays and changes. Before the Bill was even debated yesterday, it faced a further change when the Government made a commitment that social media bosses could be held criminally liable if their organisations fail to fulfil their duties introduced in the legislation.
We welcome any attempt to strengthen the enforcement of the Bill. The College has previously called for regulators to have strong powers to hold companies to account, and we were one of the first organisations to recommend that Ofcom should have the power to fine companies up to 10% of global annual turnover. This recommendation is included on the face of the Bill which we have welcomed.
The debate lasted a couple of hours, with contributions from members across the House, including former Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, The Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP. During the debate the Government made a further change to the legislation, when it committed to ensure the Bill will force companies to release data and co-operate with families and coroners following the death of a child. Following the debate the Bill passed with cross-party support and will now move on to the House of Lords for further scrutiny and amendment.
In the Lords, as a Royal College we will continue to engage with Parliamentarians and suggest ways to strengthen the legislation, including looking at how the Bill can improve the online media literacy of young people. This is important so we can equip young people with the tools they need to help protect themselves as new online harms develop. We will also continue to call on the government to devise a data-sharing framework with user consent, so that the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and TikTok are compelled to share their data with researchers.
This Bill is an important first step for protecting young people online. However, there is still much more we need to do. The Bill needs to be part of a wider strategy for protecting children online, including looking at harms from loot-boxes for example, which often target children and risks exposing them to an addictive form of gambling.
In advance of the debate, we sent a briefing to Parliamentarians setting out the College position on the Bill, which you can read in full on our website.