A so-called ‘super committee’ has been formed to scritinise the governments harm online strategy and approach. This committee will be made up of MP’s and Lords.
This new committee is now seeking input from the public about their views on the legislation. The government claims that the legislation will safeguard freedom of expression online. It will also increase the accountability of tech giants and most importantly, protecting users from online harm.
Under the Bill’s statutory “duty of care”, tech companies will be accountable . if they host user generated content or allow people to communicate, they will be legally obliged to act. This means proactively identifying, removing and limiting the spread of both illegal and legal but harmful content. This includes child sexual abuse, terrorism and suicide material. If they do not comply, the companies could be fined up to 10% of their turnover by the online harms regulator. It has been confirmed that Ofcom will be the regulator for this.
The joint committee is chaired by MP Damian Collins, the former chair of House of Commons DCMS Select Committee. This committee previously led an the enquiry into disinformation and so called fake news.. This committee concluded by calling for an end to the self-regulation of social media firms.
“The Online Safety Bill is about finally putting a legal framework around hate speech and harmful content, and ultimately holding the tech giants to account for the role their technology plays in promoting it,” said Collins.
“The next step in this process is the detailed scrutiny of the draft Bill. This is a once in a generation piece of legislation that will update our laws for the digital age,” he said.
“We now have a super committee of MPs and peers. They are highly experienced in this area and will work together to go through this Bill line by line. It must be fit for purpose. Freedom of speech is at the heart of our democracy, but so is fighting against movements that seeks to harm and dehumanise people. In the social media age we have not yet got that balance right Now is the time to fix it.”
The committee is set to report its findings to the government on 10 December 2021, and will also seek views specifically on how the draft Bill compares to online safety legislation in other countries.
On 22 July, a report from the House of Lords Communications and Digital Committee said that although it welcomes the Bill’s proposals to oblige tech platforms to remove illegal content and protect children from harm, it does not support the government’s plan to make companies moderate content that is legal, but may be objectionable to some.
Instead, the Lords argued that existing laws should be properly enforced. Any serious harms not already made illegal should be criminalised.
“We are not convinced that they are workable or could be implemented without unjustifiable and unprecedented interference in freedom of expression. If a type of content is seriously harmful, it should be defined and criminalised through primary legislation,” peers wrote.
“It would be more effective to address content which is legal. However, some may find distressing through strong regulation of the design of platforms, digital citizenship education, and competition regulation.”
Chair of the Communications and Digital Committee, Lord Gilbert, is also a member of the new joint committee being launched.
At the end of June 2021, the newly formed campaign group Legal to Say. Legal to Type also critiqued the Bill for being overly simplistic. It also cedes too much power to Silicon Valley firms over freedom of speech in the UK.
Speaking at a press conference launching the group, Conservative MP David Davis, characterised the Bill as a “censor’s charter”, “Silicon Valley providers are being asked to adjudicate and censor ‘legal but harmful’ content. Because of the vagueness of the criteria and the size of the fine, we know what they’re going to do – they’re going to lean heavily into the side of caution.
“Anything that can be characterised as misinformation will be censored. Silicon Valley corporations are going to be the arbiters of truth online. The effect on free speech will be terrible.”