The internet is a wondrous place, filled with opportunities for making connections. However, it can also be a pretty scary place. This article will look at what the UK government are doing to make the internet safer…

Almost every day, the headlines announce horror stories regarding the internet, including racist abuse, the buying and selling of illegal items, and devastating abuse against children.

There is a real growing concern about underage young adults in pornography. With laws surrounding pornography still not as clear cut as many would like, there have been numerous calls for the government to act in order to protect the young and the vulnerable.

In this article, we explore the newest legislation to tackle this issue in the UK. Take a look…

What Are the Government Doing to Tackle Internet Safety?

The UK government has responded to problems with online safety by proposing amendments to the current Online Safety Bill. In its current form, priority illegal offences cover terrorism, child abuse and child exploitation.

However, due to safety concerns, they’ve prioritised making sure further illegal offences are added to the face of the bill, in a bid to clamp down on violent sexual and hate crime. Some additions to this list will include:

  • Encouraging or assisting in the suicide of another person through online messaging.
  • Sexual offences, including revenge pornography, extreme pornography, and sending unsolicited sexual images to adults and minors.
  • Threats of violence and incitement to violence, including self-harm.
  • Hate crime, including race related crime and homophobic related crime.
  • Public order offences including stalking and harassment.
  • Drug related offences.
  • Offences involving weapons or firearms.
  • Financial crime and fraud.
  • Money laundering and unlawful money lending services.
  • Immigration offences.
  • Controlling or inciting prostitution for gain.

It’s thought that the updated bill will place a further duty of care onto internet companies. It should encourage them to become more proactive in terms of monitoring user generated content on their sites, and to remove illegal content quickly.

Digital Secretary, Nadine Dorries said:

“This government said it would legislate to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online, while enshrining free speech, and that’s exactly what we are going to do. Our world leading bill will protect children from online abuse and harms, protecting the most vulnerable from accessing harmful content, and ensuring that there is no safe space for terrorists to hide online.”

In the past, legislation for the internet has been fairly limited, leaving victims feeling isolated and frustrated. Under the new guidelines, the rules will be much broader and will include, abusive messages on most platforms. This will also include ‘pile on’ abuse, whereby a number of people target an individual in the comments section of a post. 

The new legislation aims to tackle any grey areas which previously existed in online communications. It will specifically place the responsibility firmly in the court of the website owner.

Suicide Prevention Online

The changes to the bill come hard on the heels of prominent news stories, such as that of Jade Turner, a vulnerable 25-year-old from Bolton, who took her own life after being targeted by bullies on social media. An inquest heard that Jade committed suicide following online abuse and mocking messages from her ex-boyfriend. 

Co-founder of the Cybersmile Foundation, Dan Raisbeck, said:

“This is a tragic case that highlights the impact that negative online behaviors can have on people’s lives. When interacting online, we don’t know how someone is truly feeling inside about themselves or how our negative judgments might affect them. We all need to be mindful of the power that words have both on and offline.”

New Legislation to Empower Ofcom

The government’s new legislation is incredibly important, and a major step forward for the UK. The legislation will allow The Office of Communications (Ofcom) more powers than ever before. 

Under the new legislation, Ofcom will be able to issue fines to non-compliant websites of up to 10% of their annual global turnover. In severe cases, they can even block the sites from being accessed in the UK. 

Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said, “These new measures will make it easier and quicker to crack down on offenders and hold social media companies to account”.  

While previously the only penalty that a company could expect was an order to remove the content, they will now be required to proactively prevent people being exposed to abuse in the first place.

Nadine Dorries added, “We are listening to MPs, charities and campaigners who have wanted us to strengthen the legislation, and today’s changes mean we will be able to bring the full weight of the law against those who use the internet as a weapon to ruin people’s lives and do so quicker and more effectively”.

Continuing to Raise Awareness of Online Danger…

The new legislation comes as a result of feedback from a number of individuals and organisations. For quite some time, these organisations have been working to raise awareness of the very real harm that can be caused by online abuse and trolling. 

By broadening the laws against online abuse, the government will be bringing the internet more in line with the laws governing real life abuse in order to make the internet a safer and more inclusive space for everyone.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash