Government to try and make UK the leader in online safety
The Internet is a long way from being a wild west since while it may feel that there are no laws around online content the laws of the United Kingdom still apply in the UK so to some extent it could be said that a new Online Harms White Paper is not just about protecting people and pulling the big social media into line but about making private companies take on the role of policing thus saving the taxpayer the money.
The Online Harms White Paper is open for a 12 week consultation and proposes a mandatory 'duty of care' be applied to online sites no matter what size if they allow people to share user generated content or interact with others online. For those sites/organisations that fail in their 'duty of care' a regulator (such as Ofcom, BBFC or some other new body) would have the power to impose fines, block access to sites and in some cases individual members of senior management would be personally liable.
The internet can be brilliant at connecting people across the world - but for too long these companies have not done enough to protect users, especially children and young people, from harmful content.
That is not good enough, and it is time to do things differently. We have listened to campaigners and parents, and are putting a legal duty of care on internet companies to keep people safe.
Online companies must start taking responsibility for their platforms, and help restore public trust in this technology.UK Prime Minister Theresa May
The biggest elephant in the room is that while responsible UK sites and services will abide by any changes to the law, overseas owned and operated sites that currently UK users are free to use will likely to continue to operate exactly as they do today. For the largest global social media services it is likely they will bend the knee but the cost of compliance will mean that they will embrace filters and other techniques and this invariably leads to over blocking or incorrect categorisation of content. The mention of site blocking suggests that for those overseas sites that are outside UK jurisdiction and make no changes they will simply be blocked and this will quickly lead the UK down the route of having a Great Internet Firewall.
It seems likely that many smaller online forums in the UK may see risk of fines as too big and close up shop and this will reduce the diversity of sources online and just like the destruction of the local print press lead to a few large operations controlling everything.
Online harms in scope of the White Paper - The table below shows the initial list of online harmful content or activity in scope of the White Paper, based on an assessment of their impact on individuals and society and their prevalence. This list is, by design, neither exhaustive nor fixed. A static list could prevent swift regulatory action to address new forms of online harm, new technologies and online activities.
Harms with a clear legal definition Harms with a less clear legal definition Underage exposure to legal content Child sexual abuse and exploitation Cyberbullying and trolling Children accessing pornography Terrorist content and activity Extremist content and activity Children accessing inappropriate material (including under 13s using social media and under-18s using dating apps; excessive screen time) Organised immigration crime Coercive behaviour Modern slavery Intimidation Extreme pornography Disinformation Revenge pornography Violent content Harassment and cyberstalking Advocacy of self-harm Hate crime Promotion of Female Genital Mutilation Encouraging or assisting suicide Incitement of violence Sale of illegal goods / services, such as drugs and weapons (on the open internet) Contempt of court and interference with legal proceedings Sexting of indecent images by under 18s Online Harms and current examples
Increased site blocking makes political censorship much easier and with the amount of already available tools for those around the globe that are living under oppressive regimes what is likely to happen is that a growing number of people in the UK may start to utilise these tools.
One thought if we see widespread blocking of non-compliant social media services is what will overseas visitors make of the United Kingdom when they arrive and find they cannot upload their holiday pictures to various services.
There is so much more we could raise concerns over, the worries are not about blocking of clearly illegal content but the real danger that the UK may become a walled garden of content.