Online Safety Bill: Gov’t to regulate YOUR Twitter account more than the Daily Mail’s
Hacked Off reports that – the Government has now published the final version of the Online Safety Bill which, through specific exemptions, puts the rights and interests of the press above those of the public.
The Bill will require citizens’ posts on social media platforms (like Facebook and Twitter), to be regulated – but anything posted by a “newspaper” will be exempt. Extremist publications may also be able to take advantage of this exemption. Additionally, newspaper comment sections are exempt from being considered as social media platforms under the bill and will thereby escape accountability altogether. The bill reforms malicious communication offences, which newspapers will also be exempt from.
Commenting, Hacked Off Chief Executive Nathan Sparkes said,
Press exemptions in the Online Safety Bill published today will result in individuals’ social media accounts being regulated more than the accounts of the Daily Mail and other national newspapers.
The Government apparently believes that the rights of Murdoch and other newspaper owners are worth more than those of the public. This is unfair, irrational, and is likely to undermine the entire bill, with the definition of a “newspaper” open to abuse from extremist publications.
Commenting on the complete exemption for newspaper comment sections, Sparkes added,
In offering a total exemption to anything posted in a newspaper comment section, Boris Johnson’s Government is giving the green light to misogyny, racism and other forms of abuse so long as it appears under a newspaper article. This is an appalling failure to protect the public from serious harm.
These exemptions render the bill weak, irrational and ultimately incapable of protecting the public from online harms. Damaged legislation like this is the price paid by the public for this government’s unhealthy relationship with the press
IMPRESS regulates 190+ publications in the UK. It is also ready to tackle the harms on news websites not addressed by the government’s Online Safety Bill.
Its Head of Regulation Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana said:
“Now more than ever, in times of war and crisis, well-regulated sources of news that provide factual, verified, accurate information to the public are fundamental. The government’s Online Safety Bill could go further by incentivising news publishers to sign up to an independent regulator to ensure harm does not perpetuate due to the light-touch definitions set out in the Bill.”
The Bill sets out an exemption whereby news publishers will not be subject to statutory duties if they meet specific criteria such as having a standards code. IMPRESS will be able to ensure journalists and news publishers comply with the exemption, by providing the only UK press standards code approved in law.
However, there are loopholes within the exemption that could potentially be exploited. Under the current definitions, anyone can set up a so-called ‘news website’ to publish harmful content by simply copying and pasting a standards code and complaints policy. This prioritises the rights of these unregulated sites over the rights of the public to be protected from harm.
Recognising the potential for public harm, IMPRESS has been working since its inception to bring unregulated news websites into publicly accountable oversight. The law could go further to encourage publishers to follow suit.
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This legislation represents an opportunity to rebalance the public’s relationship with online services and to create a safer, more equitable environment for life online. IMPRESS is ready to work with Ofcom and platforms regarding their new obligations.
IMPRESS regulates 190+ publications in the UK, reaching over 16 million readers in the UK each month.