Britain makes internet safer, as Online Safety Bill finished and ready to become law

Online Safety Bill passes its final Parliamentary debate and is now ready to become law

  • The Online Safety Bill has been signed off by the Houses of Parliament and will become law soon
  • the bill will make the UK the safest place in the world to be online by placing new duties on social media companies – honouring our manifesto commitment
  • the bolstered bill has been strengthened through debate, with firmer protections for children, more control for adults and clarity for social platforms

The Online Safety Bill has today (Tuesday 19 September) passed its final Parliamentary debate and is now ready to become law.

This major milestone means the government is within touching distance of delivering the most powerful child protection laws in a generation, while ensuring adults are better empowered to take control of their online lives, while protecting our mental health.

The bill takes a zero-tolerance approach to protecting children and makes sure social media platforms are held responsible for the content they host. If they do not act rapidly to prevent and remove illegal content and stop children seeing material that is harmful to them, such as bullying, they will face significant fines that could reach billions of pounds. In some cases, their bosses may even face prison.

The bill has undergone considerable parliamentary scrutiny in both the Houses and has come out with stronger protections for all.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

"The Online Safety Bill is a game-changing piece of legislation. Today, this government is taking an enormous step forward in our mission to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

"I am immensely proud of what we have achieved with this bill. Our common-sense approach will deliver a better future for British people, by making sure that what is illegal offline is illegal online. It puts protecting children first, enabling us to catch keyboard criminals and crack down on the heinous crimes they seek to commit.

"I am deeply thankful to the tireless campaigning and efforts of parliamentarians, survivors of abuse and charities who have all worked relentlessly to get this bill to the finish line."

Without this groundbreaking legislation, the safety of children across the country would be at stake and the internet would remain a wild west of content, putting children’s lives and mental health at risk. The bill has a zero-tolerance approach to protecting children, meaning social media platforms will be legally responsible for the content they host and keeping children and young people safe online.

Social media platforms will be expected to:

  • remove illegal content quickly or prevent it from appearing in the first place, including content promoting self-harm
  • prevent children from accessing harmful and age-inappropriate content
  • enforce age limits and age-checking measures
  • ensure the risks and dangers posed to children on the largest social media platforms are more transparent, including by publishing risk assessments
  • provide parents and children with clear and accessible ways to report problems online when they do arise

NSPCC Chief Executive, Sir Peter Wanless said:

"We are absolutely delighted to see the Online Safety Bill being passed through Parliament. It is a momentous day for children and will finally result in the ground-breaking protections they should expect online.

"At the NSPCC, we hear from children about the completely unacceptable levels of abuse and harm they face online every day. That’s why we have campaigned strongly for change alongside brave survivors, families, young people and parliamentarians to ensure the legislation results in a much safer online world for children.

"Children can benefit greatly from life online. Tech companies can now seize the opportunity to embrace safety by design. The NSPCC is ready to help them listen to and understand the online experiences of their young users to help ensure every child feels safe and empowered online."

In addition to its firm protections for children, the bill empowers adults to take control of what they see online. It provides three layers of protection for internet users which will:

  1. Make sure illegal content will have to be removed
  2. Place a legal responsibility on social media platforms to enforce the promises they make to users when they sign up, through terms and conditions
  3. Offer users the option to filter out harmful content, such as bullying, that they do not want to see online

If social media platforms do not comply with these rules, Ofcom could fine them up to £18 million or 10% of their global annual revenue, whichever is biggest – meaning fines handed down to the biggest platforms could reach billions of pounds.

Also added to the bill are new laws to decisively tackle online fraud and violence against women and girls. Through this legislation, it will be easier to convict someone who shares intimate images without consent and new laws will further criminalise the non-consensual sharing of intimate deepfakes.

The change in laws will make it easier to charge abusers who share intimate images and put more offenders behind bars and better protect the public. Those found guilty of this base offence have a maximum penalty of 6 months in custody.

Former Love Island star and campaigner Georgia Harrison said:

"Violence against women and girls is so common, with one in three women in the UK having experienced online abuse or harassment.

"The Online Safety bill is going to help bring this to an end, by holding social media companies accountable to protect women and girls from online abuse."

Under the bill, the biggest social media platforms will have to stop users being exposed to dangerous fraudulent adverts by blocking and removing scams, or face Ofcom’s huge new fines.

The government has recently strengthened the bill even further, by amending the law to force social media firms to prevent activity that facilitates animal cruelty and torture (such as paying or instructing torture). Even if this activity takes place outside the UK but is seen by users here, companies will be forced to take it down.

Anticipating the bill coming into force, the biggest social media companies have already started to take action. Snapchat has started removing the accounts of underage users and TikTok has implemented stronger age verification.

Ofcom Chief Executive, Dame Melanie Dawes said:

"Today is a major milestone in the mission to create a safer life online for children and adults in the UK. Everyone at Ofcom feels privileged to be entrusted with this important role, and we’re ready to start implementing these new laws.

"Very soon after the bill receives Royal Assent, we’ll consult on the first set of standards that we’ll expect tech firms to meet in tackling illegal online harms, including child sexual exploitation, fraud and terrorism."

While the bill has been in progress, the government has been working closely with Ofcom to ensure changes will be implemented as quickly as possible when it becomes law.

The regulator will immediately begin work on tackling illegal content and protecting children’s safety, with its consultation process launching in the weeks after Royal Assent. It will then take a phased approach to bringing the Online Safety Bill’s into force.

Department for Science, Innovation and Technology
The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP