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The Online Safety Bill: let’s get the basics right

In a new blog, Parent Zone CEO and founder Vicki Shotbolt calls for wider regulation within the draft Online Safety Bill and a ‘duty of action’ for children known to be at risk.

The Online Safety Bill will change our relationship with the internet. 

We are moving from a self-regulated internet to a regulated one. The idea that technology changes too quickly for laws to keep up and that it is too inherently complex to regulate has been set aside – not just in the UK but internationally. 

That’s a positive step. 

Good regulation should make it easier for tech companies and platforms to understand and fulfil their responsibilities. 

It should provide consumers with appropriate safeguards – and it should lead to a digital world that society has had a role in shaping. 

What’s important is that policymakers get the regulation right. Get it right and we make the internet a better place for all of us. Get it wrong and we could damage what we want to protect – like free and open access. 

Read our guide to the Online Safety Bill and what it means for families

Read our response to the Joint pre-legislative scrutiny Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill’s Call for Evidence

Missing some important basics

As it stands, the Online Safety Bill is both abstract and overly complex. 

It misses some really important basics – like protecting children from pornography by requiring commercial porn producers to have age verification in place. It leaves gaming out completely. 

Parent Zone has been working with families to help them guide their children through the digital world since 2004. In our response to the consultation questions posed by members of the Bill’s scrutiny Committee, we raised a number of significant concerns: 

  • We are concerned that access to some platforms will be more tightly age-gated for children – but hardcore pornography sites will remain open to anyone. As drafted, the Bill means that it could be harder for a child to watch cat videos on a social media site than watching hardcore violent pornography. 

  • We are concerned that the ‘Duty of Care’ described in the Bill does not extend to a ‘duty to take action’ when a child is known to be at risk – for example, a child posting self harm pictures or sharing naked images. A duty to conduct risk assessments and to ensure that your platform is safe enough is a positive step, but little comfort to a parent whose child is clearly in distress and needs an immediate intervention. 

  • We question whether the resources needed to provide online media literacy information to parents will be made available. Keeping adults up to date with the information they need to guide children through a changing digital world is a huge challenge and one that remains underfunded.

  • We cannot understand why gaming has been left out of a Bill that is supposed to be designed to make the UK the safest country in the world to go online. Without gaming, it will be the safest place to go online unless you go online to game. And then it won’t be. 

We have an opportunity to take a really important step forward, but it is vital that we get the basics right. 

Parents are expecting this law to protect children. If the Bill leaves serious harms out of scope, families will be justified in asking why.