Parliament must step in to ensure Online Safety Bill protects citizens from harm
Responding to the Online Safety Bill, published today, Will Moy, chief executive of Full Fact, said:
“As it stands, the Online Safety Bill falls short of the Government’s aim to make the UK the safest place to be online.”
“Ultimately, this legislation will affect us all, but at present it leaves the public vulnerable and exposed to online harms. The Government has not learned lessons from the last two years, where misinformation and disinformation was able to undermine public health during a pandemic.”
“Parliament must now make the most of its opportunity to challenge, scrutinise and improve the Bill. It must limit the damage caused by bad information, and end internet companies’ ability to make unaccountable decisions for UK internet users from offices on the other side of the world.”
Today the Government introduced the Online Safety Bill to Parliament.
We have already raised concerns about the previous draft of the legislation and its ability to effectively tackle the harms from bad information online, while safeguarding freedom of expression.
The revised Bill lacks a credible plan to tackle the harms from online misinformation and disinformation, and appears to rely partly on the possibility of secondary legislation at a later date. The only reference to misinformation presently is in relation to a committee to advise Ofcom.
As such the Bill’s current provisions will fail to tackle harmful misinformation and protect freedom of expression unless important changes are made by Parliament.
Last month we published a ten point plan for how the Bill can counter bad information with good information and protect free speech, by promoting media literacy, challenging deceptive behaviour online, and enforcing transparency of government and internet company measures.
The Bill must be amended in a number of ways including to do the following:
- Improve media literacy—Full Fact research shows that one in three adults find it hard to distinguish true information from false information
- Prioritise the promotion of good information over restricting content—earlier and stronger commitment to share good, reliable information reduces need to resolve through takedowns—for example, it would have limited the spread of 5G conspiracy theories
- Introduce legal rules to enforce government transparency—Parliament should know when government is pressuring internet companies to remove content.