The Government’s Online Safety Bill has finally been published (17 March 2022), almost three years since the initial Online Harms White Paper that began the debate about digital regulation in the UK. The Bill sets out a regulatory framework through which online service providers will be held accountable for how they act to reduce the risk of harms on their services.

In summary: the outlook is not good. We are supportive of the ambition of regulation, and the broad ways in which the Bill seeks to balance reducing risks to users with ensuring that platforms are held accountable for their own systems and not for individual cases of user content violations. However, we have strong concerns about the way the Bill is currently drafted, and both the procedural elements and the likely outcomes of the regulatory regime it describes. These are not irremediable. In light of the UK claiming to be achieving ‘world-leading’ regulation, we would do well to learn more from the work of the European Union and civil society in developing the Digital Services Act which has already grappled with many similar issues.

This document sets out recommendations to help inform the forthcoming Parliamentary process and, should the Bill be passed, the establishment of the new framework.