UK Government proposes new "Online Harms" watchdog

  • A new white paper by the UK government proposes the creation of a new digital watchdog agency tasked with tackling "Online Harms," including child exploitation and terrorist radicalisation.

    It's difficult to imagine how any of us would get through our daily lives without access to the internet today, but all the tools and opportunities the internet has opened up to us have also come with new social problems. Cyber-bullying, harassment, child exploitation, and political radicalisation have taken root on even the most innocuous of digital spaces, and the UK government wants to tackle these and other online harms.

    In a new whitepaper published today, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has proposed the formation of an independent watchdog dedicated to combatting online harms. The group would seek out illegal activity and content deemed unacceptable on popular online platforms and would be empowered to issue fines and impose liabilities on the platform holders.

    The problem this proposal is trying to address is a real one and it's been driven by a severe lack of self-moderation of content by platform owners. Google and Facebook are not liable for users posting illegal material on YouTube or Facebook or otherwise using the service to cause harm to others, and they have come under fire in recent years for not doing enough to prevent these harms.

    This proposal follows several years of serious scandals for popular online platforms, including the revelation that predators have been using YouTube to creep on children and that terrorists have been using social media platforms to radicalise UK citizens. The sheer volume of content being uploaded to websites such as YouTube and Facebook each day makes them impractical to moderate directly.

    The new digital watchdog proposal has raised some issues surrounding the freedom of expression online. The document tackles this by suggesting that the regulator would be an independent body that would have "a legal duty to pay due regard to innovation, and to protect users’ rights online, taking particular care not to infringe privacy or freedom of expression." It was also clarified that "the regulator will not be responsible for policing truth and accuracy online."

    Source: BBC News, White Paper

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    Brendan is a Sync NI writer with a special interest in the gaming sector, programming, emerging technology, and physics. To connect with Brendan, feel free to send him an email or follow him on Twitter.

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