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Online Safety Bill delayed until the Autumn

The UK’s Online Safety Bill, which has been slowly making its way through Parliament was dropped from the legislative calendar last Wednesday to allow time to debate the equally contentious Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would give ministers the power to scrap parts of the post-Brexit deal between the UK and the EU. Since the Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in March 2022, it has had its second reading (in April 2022) and was re-introduced in the Commons on 10 May 2022. The Bill is now expected to return sometime in the Autumn, when the Conservative Party is expected to elect a new leader to replace Boris Johnson. first reported on the first reading of the UK’s Online Safety Bill back in March. Originally announced in 2019, the Bill is intended to balance the safety and rights of internet users of all ages. It is meant to protect children from harmful content such as pornography, to limit people’s exposure to illegal content while protecting freedom of speech, and require social media platforms, search engines, and other apps and websites who allow people to post their own content, to protect children and tackle illegal activity, by removing content that is deemed to be “legal but harmful” , such as content that promotes self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders.

We previously reported on the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries’ statement that the new law would apply in the Metaverse and that any version of the Metaverse falls under the Bills’ broad definitions. The Bill places a duty of care on providers of user-to-user services, including undertaking “suitable and sufficient illegal content risk assessments” and to “to take or use proportionate measures to effectively mitigate and manage the risks of harm to individuals”. This would apply to any service provider that allows users to share user generated content with other users, think Meta (formerly Facebook), Twitter, TikTok, but also Minecraft or Roblox, that allow people to build virtual spaces, which are the foundation the Metaverse.

The delay to the Bill could lead to the legislation being slimmed down, or killed off entirely, as it will be overseen by a new prime minister who may or may not support the bill. The broad and vague nature of the Bill has resulted in contention and criticism from both sides of the argument, from those that are campaigning for new laws to protect children and vulnerable users from harmful internet content, to those concerned with the Bill’s impact on innovation, free speech and the far-reaching and excessive powers to be handed to government ministers. Conservative Party leadership candidate Kemi Badenoch has recently stated that the Bill is “in no fit shape to become law”, and has tweeted that, if she were to elected Prime Minister, she would “ensure the bill doesn’t overreach”. Ms Badenoch also said that postponement was the “right move”, and that “we should not be legislating for hurt feelings.” This has led to a public spat on Twitter with Ms Dorries, who responded by saying “which part of the bill legislates for hurt feelings, Kemi?”

It's clear that there’s a long way to go, which only means that children remain at risk of being exposed to harmful online content, and Metaverse organisations still don’t know what is being asked of them.

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Jessica Lewis/Unsplash

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