March 23, 2022Published by: Drew Benvie

What is the UK’s Online Safety Bill and how will it affect social media?

Last Thursday, the UK government presented its long-awaited Online Safety Bill to Parliament. The paper, described by its creators as a ‘world first’ in social media and internet regulation, aims to hold social media giants to account through a range of new offences. 

What does the bill do?

The 225-page document covers a raft of online issues, such as cyber-flashing, but much of it is dedicated to establishing a duty of care for social media companies to follow. At the heart of it is an obligation to protect users from harmful or illegal content, with executives from Meta, TikTok and Twitter potentially facing jail should they fail to comply with the laws. 

Within these laws is a requirement for social media platforms to prevent paid-for fraudulent adverts from appearing on their services. The bill also suggests that social media users should, in the future, have the ability to 'blanket block' potential trolls. The proposed feature suggests all social networks should attempt to verify a user's real identity. This means a user could then automatically block all 'non-verified' accounts to reduce exposure to trolling.

How will laws be enforced? 

To enforce these laws, the bill grants sweeping new powers to Ofcom. The regulator will be able to demand information from tech firms, including how their algorithms select and display content. The regulator will also be able to enter a company’s premises to access data and equipment. It can also force social media platforms to undergo external assessments on how they are keeping users safe. 

Failure to comply with the regulator’s demands could result in a social media site being blocked or fined up to 10% of global turnover. Social media bosses who repeatedly fail to take appropriate action could even face jail time. 

What does the Online Safety Bill mean for brands? 

Social media companies and users will need to do more to achieve the changes the Online Safety Bill envisages. And we don’t expect brands to see an immediate impact on their social and PR activity, if and when the bill comes into law. 

However, the bill is a clear indication of the future of regulation on social media. Gone are the days of self-regulation. In the UK – and, in time, perhaps the world – social media platforms will have to abide by a legal framework requiring them to protect users.

About Battenhall

We look after brand profiles on social media, and we're proudly the world's #1 at what we do. Named The Drum's social media agency of the year for the last three years running. Get in touch! hello@battenhall.com

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