The bill's scope triggered debates about balancing free speech and privacy rights against efforts to stop the spread of harmful content online.
Britain passed a broad ban on online content on Tuesday, imposing age-verification requirements for pornography sites and other measures to reduce abuse and other illegal content. The Online Safety Bill, an effort to regulate online speech, includes terrorist propaganda, online fraud, and child safety. About 300 pages long, the new regulations took more than five years to develop, causing intense debates about how to balance free expression and privacy against barring harmful content, especially targeted at children. At one point, messaging services like WhatsApp and Signal threatened to discontinue the British market, until measures in the bill that were seen as weakening encryption standards were changed. The British law goes beyond efforts elsewhere to regulate online content, requiring companies to screen for objectionable material and to judge whether it is illegal, rather than requiring them only to act after being alerted to illegal content, according to Graham Smith, a London lawyer focused on internet law.
It is part of a wave of regulations in Europe aimed at ending an era of self-regulation in which tech companies set their own policies about what content could stay up or be taken down. The Digital Services Act, a European Union law, has become a reality, necessitating companies to monitor their platforms for illegal material. The British secretary of technology, Michelle Donelan, said in a statement. British politicians have been under pressure to approve the policy as concerns about the mental health impacts of Internet and social media use among young people have grown. The bill's supporters were among the most aggressive champions of the bill, with families blaming their children's suicides to social media. Under the new policy, content aimed at children that promotes suicide, self-harm and eating disorders must be limited. The new laws on age-verification will necessitate the introduction of age-verification measures to prevent children from gaining access to pornography, a move that some experts have said would harm the availability of information online and undercut privacy. Wikipedia's creator, Wikimedia Foundation, has said it will not be able to comply with the law and may be blocked as a result. Tik Tok, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram will also be required to introduce features that allow users to encounter less amount of harmful content, such as eating disorders, self-harm, racism, misogyny or antisemitism.