UK aspires to be the safest place in the world to be online

New laws will be created to make sure that the UK is the safest place in the world to be online, Digital Secretary Matt Hancock has announced.
22 May 2018

Britain’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock (Right) and Labour Party Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner (Left) on TV. Source: Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via REUTERS

From October to December last year, the UK government issued the Internet Safety Strategy consultation green paper and invited comments on various aspects of online safety including the introduction of a social media code of practice, transparency reporting, a social media levy, and support for parents and carers.

In the paper, the government proposed a set of principles to underpin its approach:

  1. What is unacceptable offline should be unacceptable online,
  2. All users should be empowered to manage online risks and stay safe, and
  3. Technology companies have a responsibility to their users, and for the content they host.

Once all the responses were gathered and analyzed, three main issues were revealed:

  1. Online behaviors too often fail to meet acceptable standards,
  2. Users can feel powerless to address these issues, and
  3. Technology companies can operate without proper oversight, transparency or accountability, and commercial interests mean that they can fail to act in users’ best interests.

Obviously, these insights informed the government’s decision-makers about the challenges and issues faced by citizens every day. It seems that the responses have prompted the government to take action and consider new laws.

A few days ago, the government issued their response to the green paper. In it, the UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), Matt Hancock said that the government is working to ensure that the UK is both the safest place to be online, and the best place to start a digital business.

As a result, the country is taking deliberating a social media code of practice and plans on enforcing transparent reporting.

The statutory code of practice will guide social media providers about appropriate reporting mechanisms and moderation processes needed to tackle abusive content.

“By setting out clear standards for industry, we will make sure there is improved support for users online, and that more companies are taking consistent action to tackle abuse,” explained Hancock.

Transparency reports, on the other hand, will provide data on the amount of harmful content being reported to platforms in the UK and information on how these reports are dealt with, including what mechanisms are in place to protect users, for example, around their mental health and wellbeing.

According to Hancock, “these reports will help us understand the extent of online harms and how effectively companies are tackling breaches in their terms and conditions.”

The UK is focused on making the internet safer and therefore, is taking measures that will make the internet more productive and enjoyable in the near future.

“Digital technology is overwhelmingly a force for good across the world and we must always champion innovation and change for the better. At the same time, I have been clear that we have to address the Wild West elements of the Internet through legislation, in a way that supports innovation. We strongly support technology companies to start up and grow, and we want to work with them to keep our citizens safe,” explained Hancock.

In a press release, the government announced that the DCMS and Home Office will jointly work on a White Paper with other government departments, to be published later this year.

This paper will set out legislation to be brought forward that tackles a range of both legal and illegal harms, from cyberbullying to online child sexual exploitation.

The government will also consider where legislation will have the strongest impact, for example, whether transparency or a code of practice should be underwritten by legislation, and also a range of other options to address both legal and illegal harms.

According to the press release, the government will work with regulators, platforms, and advertising companies to ensure that the principles that govern advertising in traditional media – such as preventing companies targeting unsuitable advertisements at children – also apply and are enforced online.