Culture secretary

New Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan says Online Safety Bill will be amended to strengthen free speech

New Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan says the Online Safety Bill will be amended to remove controversial measures targeting ‘lawful but harmful’ content as it would encourage social media companies to stifle freedom of expression

  • Donelan confirmed she was editing the ‘legal but harmful’ part of the online safety bill
  • Fears it will force social media companies to set algorithms too strict to avoid fines
  • This could see them take down pieces of legitimate journalism

A controversial new web safety law that could undermine freedom of the press and free speech must be ‘changed’, the culture secretary said today.

Michelle Donelan has confirmed ministers are reconsidering part of the online safety bill designed to target ‘legal but harmful’ content amid fears it could lead to increased censorship.

There are fears that this provision could push social media companies to set their algorithms too narrowly to avoid huge fines or even criminal penalties – and in the process eliminate legitimate journalism.

Ms Donelan, who was promoted to Cabinet a fortnight ago by new Prime Minister Liz Truss, said she was a “champion” of free speech.

Asked on BBC Radio Four’s Today program about the bill’s ‘legal but harmful’ provisions, she replied: ‘That’s what we’re going to change.

Michelle Donelan has confirmed ministers are reconsidering part of the online safety bill designed to target ‘legal but harmful’ content amid fears it could lead to increased censorship.

The previous government had already amended the Online Safety Bill so that social media platforms would be required to notify recognized news publishers if they intended to block or remove news content. , and await the outcome of any appeal.

The previous government had already amended the Online Safety Bill so that social media platforms would be required to notify recognized news publishers if they intended to block or remove news content. , and await the outcome of any appeal.

One of the most controversial pieces of the legislation is for tech giants to remove content

One of the most controversial elements of the legislation is that tech giants remove ‘lawful but harmful’ content or face heavy fines

“I’m not going to announce today exactly how we’re going to change that, because due process will be to do that in Parliament.”

“But this element is in relation to adults. Elements relating to children and online safety will not change. And that’s the overarching goal of the bill, and that’s why we put it in our manifesto.

The bill aims to force the biggest operators, such as Meta, formerly Facebook, and Google, to abide by a duty of care to users, overseen by Ofcom as the new industry regulator.

Companies that fail to comply with the laws could be fined up to 10% of their annual worldwide revenue and will also be forced to improve their practices and block non-compliant sites.

Critics of the bill say the measures risk turning social media platforms into “online police” and that attempts to define “legal but harmful” content are “overbearing”.

The previous government had already amended the bill so that social media platforms would be required to notify recognized news publishers if they intend to block or remove news content, and to wait the outcome of any appeal.

The bill will also require pornography websites to use age verification technology to prevent children from accessing content on their sites, and the biggest social media platforms and search engines will be required to do so. prevent fraudulent advertising.

Ms Donelan continued: “We will ensure that children are protected. The main part of the bill is to make it a priority for social media providers and websites that generate user content and make sure that if they do it the wrong way, we can impose massive fines on them. , which would be very punitive and prevent them from doing it again.

“I’ve only been in the job for two weeks, I’ll be watching the bill in circles.” But my clear goal is to get this bill back to the House quickly, change what little we’ve been very outspoken about, and make sure we get it into law.

The fate of the Online Safety Bill under a new Tory government was somewhat unclear, with the new Prime Minister making it clear earlier this month that the bill would return to the House of Commons.

Andy Burrows, head of child safety online policy at the NSPCC, said the Culture Secretary’s comments were “really encouraging”.

But he warned that further delay could not be tolerated as he called for a “culture change” at the top of tech companies.

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