The UK has taken a significant step towards bolstering online safety with the new Online Safety Act, which became law on October 26, 2023. The Act aims to protect children from online harm and imposes obligations on relevant organizations, including social media platforms, to prevent and remove illegal and harmful content. The UK Government has highlighted that the Act adopts a no-nonsense approach to safeguarding children from online harm, whilst also giving adults more control over what they view online.
The Act makes it mandatory for relevant organizations to promptly remove illegal content or prevent it from appearing at all. It also necessitates the prevention of children accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content. This includes pornographic content, content that promotes or provides instructions for suicide, self-harm or eating disorders, and content that depicts or encourages serious violence or bullying.
In addition, the Act insists on transparency about the risks and dangers posed to children on these sites. This includes the requirement to publish risk assessments. Furthermore, the Act ensures that parents and children are provided with clear and straightforward methods to report online problems when they occur.
Regulation of the Act will be overseen by Ofcom, the UK authority for broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries. Non-compliance with the Act could result in fines of up to €21 million or 10% of annual global revenue, whichever amount is higher. Ofcom is set to immediately start enforcing the Act by identifying illegal content, with a consultation process scheduled for November 9, 2023. A phased approach will be taken to implement the Act, with priority given to enforcing rules against the most harmful content as soon as possible. It is expected that the majority of the Act’s provisions will be enforceable within two months.