Plans to force social platforms to remove harmful content dropped from Online Safety Bill – report

Measures which would have forced big technology firms to remove legal but harmful material have been axed from the Online Safety Bill, the BBC reports.

The bill previously included a section which required “the largest, highest-risk platforms” to tackle some legal but harmful material accessed by adults. This would have required social media platforms to take responsibility for preventing people from being exposed to content such as self-harm, eating disorder and misogynistic posts. Instead, tech firms will merely be told to introduce a system that gives users more control to filter out harmful content they do not want to see. The bill, which aims to police the internet, is intended to become law in the UK before next summer.

Some have criticised the latest changes. Ian Russell, the father of teenager Molly Russell who ended her life after viewing suicide and self-harm content online, said the bill had been watered down and the decision may have been made for political reasons to help it pass more quickly.

Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan told the BBC the bill was not being watered down, saying:

“These are massive, massive corporations that have the money, the knowhow and the tech to be able to adhere to this. She also said that any firms that did not comply with the Bill would face significant fines and “huge reputational damage”.

Lucy Powell MP, Labours Shadow Culture Secretary, criticised the decision to remove obligations over “legal but harmful” material. She told the BBC it gave a “free pass to abusers and takes the public for a ride” that it was “a major weakening, not strengthening, of the bill”.

And the boss of charity the Samaritans, Julie Bentley, said: “the damaging impact that this type of content has doesnt end on your 18th birthday. Increasing the controls that people have is no replacement for holding sites to account through the law and this feels very much like the Government snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.”