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Internet duty of care legislation highlighted by our social media investigation ‘ready early next year’

Our Social Media: The Darker Side look at online harms for children.
Our Social Media: The Darker Side look at online harms for children.

Legislation to protect children and adults from harmful content and behaviour online should be ready early next year, the UK government said.

Our Social Media: The Darker Side investigation resulted in pressure on Westminster to outline how it will tackle internet dangers for children and the wider public such as cyber bullying and sexual abuse.

Social Media: The Darker Side – An investigation by our specialist schools experts

Minister of State for Health Caroline Dinenage said proposed laws would establish a new duty of care on companies, including social media platforms.

Our investigation highlighted cases where children had suffered as a result of contact online with sexual predators and highlighted the need for tighter controls.

In response to our series, Andrew Bowie, Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, asked  Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden what steps he was taking to tackle offensive, harmful and illegal content online.

Andrew Bowie.

Mr Bowie said: “The Darker Side investigation told many surprising stories, often shocking, about people who have been the victims of online abuse, often with tragic consequences.

“It’s important to understand the human cost of online aggression.

“Social media has grown exponentially over the last 10 years and is an inseparable part of many people’s lives.

“Adults effectively have to ‘learn on the job’ when it comes to dealing with others online.

“Doing nothing is not an option – governments should help online platforms to understand this obligation and act accordingly.”

Andrew Bowie MP

“But when it comes to children, they don’t have the same emotional maturity to fall back on.

“Schools do a great job when it comes to teaching online safety, but there’s a duty of care to them that falls on us as a society.

“Doing nothing is not an option – governments should help online platforms to understand this obligation and act accordingly.”

Responding to his question, Minister of State for Health Caroline Dinenage said: “The government is committed to ensuring that the UK is the safest place in the world to be online.

The duty of care will ensure that companies have robust systems and processes in place to tackle illegal content and protect users.”

Minister of State for Health Caroline Dinenage

“In April 2019 we published the Online Harms White Paper which set out our intention to establish in law a new duty of care on companies towards their users.

“The duty of care will ensure that companies have robust systems and processes in place to tackle illegal content and protect users.

“We will publish a full government response to the Online Harms White Paper consultation which will provide further detail on our proposals.

“This will be followed by legislation, which will be ready early next year.”

The White Paper set out what was described as a new system of accountability and oversight for tech companies moving beyond self-regulation.

Regulator

The regulatory framework, it stated, will make clear companies’s responsibilities to keep UK users, particularly children, safer online with robust action to counter illegal content and activity.

However, some stakeholders have said the current proposals lack clarity and there is uncertainty over who would be regulated.

Social media platform TikTok claimed the system was flawed and could discourage platforms from looking for harmful and illegal content, as seeking would make them liable.

It has backed development of a ‘good Samaritan clause’ allowing and encouraging platforms to proactively remove illegal content.

Tech giant Huawei said all online users, including children, should have education and training to help their take responsibility.

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