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New laws governing online activity are currently being implemented in the UK. The new legislation to be enacted is intended to protect children and vulnerable adults and make the internet safer for all to use.

What Is The Online Harms Bill?

The Online Harms Bill will encompass new online safety laws to help keep people safe when accessing the internet. This will mean:

  • All organizations and companies must take action to tackle illegal activity that threatens the safety of children and vulnerable adults, in addition to preventing children from accessing material that is inappropriate and putting strong protections in place against cyberbullying.

  • It should be much less likely that adults encounter illegal material online. If they do, it should be easy to report this to the organization or company in question, who will have to act quickly to take it down.

  • The new legislation will make companies and organizations accountable for protecting children and other vulnerable users on their platforms.

  • They will be expected to adapt and enforce their terms and conditions, making it easier for users to report harmful content and get it taken down immediately.

  • Companies who fail to comply with these new regulations will face fines up to 10% of turnover or £18 million whichever is greater.

Who Is Affected By The New Laws & Who Enforces Them?

  • The laws will apply to companies and organizations that host user-generated content.
     
  • Content will include images, videos and comments, or be a site that allows UK users to chat to other people online through messaging, comments and forums.
  • This means that popular social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as little sites like the NBN will all be included under the new laws.
  • Ofcom will be appointed as the online harms regulator.
  • Ofcom will be responsible for helping companies to comply with the new laws by publishing codes of practice and through fines levied.

What Counts As Harmful Content?

  • Organizations and companies will have a responsibility to prevent anything illegal from being shared on their platforms such as hate speech or child exploitation.
  • Organizations and companies will have a responsibility to protect children and vulnerable adults from harmful content.
  • Ofcom will decide on a case by case, complaint by complaint, basis what it deems harmful.
  • The laws will also require companies and organizations to address harms around disinformation, misinformation and mistruths.

What About Freedom Of Speech?

  • As a subject of the United Kingdom you have the privilege of Freedom Of Expression, you do not have a right to Freedom Of Speech. There is a difference.
  • Under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression” in the UK. But the law states that this freedom “may be subject to formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”.

    Those restrictions may be “in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary”.

  • The bill intends to safeguard freedom of expression by ensuring that the laws are risk-based.

What Are We Doing To Implement The Bill?

  • It has been my job to monitor the progress of the bill from the green paper stage and make contributions to the discussion where possible. I have followed the progress of the bill in detail from 2017 when this was the Internet Safety Strategy, through April 2019 when the Online Harms white paper was published to 2021 with Online Harms Bill to be enacted.
     
  • I specifically designed the  moderation system to accommodate the Online Harms Bill and its legal requirements. 
     
  • It has always been mine and Ian's strategy to get ahead of legislation so that we already comply when it becomes law. Therefore we have already had the procedures for reporting, recording and auditing in place for over a year now.
     
  • In the past it has been forum policy that all members are adults and over 18 years of age to participate. We cannot guarantee that everyone reading the forum is over the age of eighteen and not a vulnerable adult.
     
  • We do not want to implement ID verification for a family orientated site about the Norfolk Broads. Therefore we will have to work from the standpoint that minors and vulnerable adults will have access to content on the site and our content must reflect this.

Who Is Liable?

  • This one is easy, Ian and myself are liable. Ian as the owner of the site and myself as the Chairman. The buck stops with us. It's our heads and our wallets and therefore our decisions

What Can We Do To Help?

This one is also quite easy. and just comes down to common sense.

  • Remember we are a family orientated organization and have a quick think before you post and ask 'is this post suitable?' before submitting your post.
     
  • Give the moderators the opportunity to do a difficult and time consuming job and get used to the new laws and procedures as quickly as they can. 
     
  • Be patient while we find solutions to problems not of our making under penalties where what is deemed 'harmful' is not rigidly defined but 'risk based'.
     
  • Realize that we have to limit access to portions of the site, the jokes page is an example, as we are now directly responsible for preventing access to children and vulnerable adults to certain content.

In Conclusion

Frustrating isn't it? You should see it from this side of the monitor! Detailed records to be kept of all reported posts, audits to be done of decisions and actions taken, those decisions made on each and every post against someone else's, as yet, undefined sliding scale of what they consider 'harmful', different for each organization, at the whim of the regulator against a background of sanctions and steep fines. Whilst the legislation is intended to reign in the larger online platforms, Ian and I are well aware that the big fish can take care of themselves and it is the smaller fish that will be picked off as an example. It does not make for an easy night's sleep!

We are aware that the NBN is a community, and a community of family and friends from all walks of life with our love of the Norfolk Broads our mutual bond. We would like to keep it that way.

We have done our best to get out in front of this legislation and we will abide by the law and the guidance from Ofcom and Oliver Dowden the Culture Minister. Dowden said yesterday that social media organizations that fail to protect children and vulnerable adults from online harms will be shut down. Dowden goes on to clarify that social media will have "no excuses" and "must face the consequences if they fail to remove illegal or harmful content". Ian and I will take him at his word.

At the end of the day, we are a family orientated organization about boating on the Norfolk Broads and there should be no content posted to our site that could be judged to be inappropriate for children or an online harm. It's that simple.

 

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