The Times - UK (2022-01-24)

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18 V2 Monday January 24 2022 | the times


News


The government’s plans for regulating
social media platforms need to be
urgently changed to prevent predators
sharing the most “insidious” images of
child abuse and violence against
women and girls, MPs have said.
A committee analysing the draft
Online Safety Bill said the legislation as
it stood represented a “missed opportu-
nity” to create a landmark set of laws to
make the UK “the safest place in the
world to be online”.
The MPs said the government still
needed to address some types of con-
tent that were technically legal at
present. One example is called bread-
crumbing, where abusers post “digital
breadcrumbs” to other abusers to show
they have child abuse content they are
willing to share. This can include
paedophiles posting images taken
before or after sexual abuse on social
media: it looks innocuous to ordinary
users but the malicious context is
recognisable to another abuser.
The Online Safety Bill is the govern-
ment’s attempt to regulate social net-
works such as Facebook and Twitter, as
well as any company that hosts content
created by users and which can be
accessed by others. Search engines are
also being included in the bill’s remit.
The draft bill states that these com-
panies will need to show a “duty of care”
to their users. This will involve remov-

Online safety bill


‘ignores some abuse’


Tom Knowles
Technology Correspondent

ing illegal content and activity, and
ensuring children are not exposed to
harmful or dangerous content. A subset
of companies, predominantly social
media giants, will also need to take
action on content that is “legal but
harmful”, such as some types of online
abuse. If companies fail to show a duty
of care to users, Ofcom, the regulator,
will have the power to impose fines of
up to £18 million or 10 per cent of global
annual turnover, whichever is higher.
The digital, culture, media and sport
committee issued a report saying the
bill was vague about what counted as
illegal content, “seemingly conflating
criminal offences with civil wrongs”. It
said the government should redraft the
bill to state explicitly what types of “ille-
gal content” it wanted to address, and
which should be subject to the most
stringent moderation measures.
The committee recommended that
the bill should “reframe the definition
of illegal content” to “explicitly add the
need to consider context as a factor”,
and to include activity such as bread-
crumbing. It added that some types of
online violence against women and
girls that was legal at present, such as
using deep-fake technology to make a
woman appear naked, should also be
outlawed.
Julian Knight, chairman of the
committee, said: “Urgency is required
to ensure that some of the most
pernicious forms of child sexual abuse
do not evade detection.” Tour de force A British Army mixed-sex team of four at English Harbour, Antigua,

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