Online Harms White Paper | April 2019

I have received many email regarding the ‘Online Harms White Paper’.
On the 8 April 2019, the Government published a White Paper which set out its proposals for making the internet a safer place for UK citizens. It is the belief of the Government that as the internet is integral to our everyday lives; being used to forge connections, share knowledge and spread opportunity in the UK and across the world. However, it should be recognised that the internet can also be used to circulate terrorist material, undermine civil discourse and society, spread disinformation and abuse individuals and groups.
Whilst recognising the benefits that the internet has brought, it is clear that there need to be protections in place to protect users from harm. There is clear evidence that currently, such protections are severely lacking. In 2017, over 8,000 sexual offences against children with an online element were reported to the police, with that figure continuing to rise. It has also been reported that up to 20% of young people have experienced online bullying, with the White Paper setting out many types of examples of online abuse, with vulnerable people being most at risk from becoming victims to cyber-bullying and exploitation. It has thus been made clear by the Government that that a serious situation currently exists and a serious response it required.
The Government recognises that there is no comprehensive international model to follow and, as such, realises that it is important to strike a balance in sustaining innovation in the digital economy, protecting free speech and reducing harm. The Government has decided to take time to consider how harm on the internet can be reduced. The issue of reducing harm has therefore been discussed extensively in Parliament, with the Select Committee on Digital, Culture, Media and Sport having already consulted various interested parties on the issue. It has been recognised that reducing harm on the internet is not straightforward and the Government has made clear that it does not claim a monopoly on wisdom. Whilst it should be recognised that some work is already being done to make the internet a safer place, including by online companies themselves, it has been too reactive. As such, the White Paper published by the the Department for Digital, Media and Sport makes it clear that the Government has a duty in reducing online harm.
The White Paper has recommended that the Government should create a new statutory duty of care, establishing in law that online companies have a responsibility for the safety of their users. It will therefore require companies to do what is reasonable to prevent harmful material from reaching those users. Compliance will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator. In the case of the most serious harms, such as child sexual exploitation and abuse and the promotion of terrorism, the Home Secretary will need to approve codes of practice and will also have power to issue directions to the regulator about their content. It is important to note, however, that users will be given a chance to voice their views about the proposed system, so that they can have confidence that their concerns are being treated fairly. The Government therefore expects companies to have an effective and easy-to-access complaints function.
It can no longer be right to leave online companies to decide for themselves what action should be taken with regard to instances of online harm. That is why the Government has concluded that it must act and that the era of so-called self- regulation of the internet must end.
April 2019

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