Measures that would have forced large digital platforms to remove “legal but harmful” content have been scrapped from the Online Safety Bill, following criticisms that it could curtail freedom of speech.
The amendment comes ahead of the Online Safety Bill, which aims to make the internet a safer place, returning to parliament next month after lengthy delays. The axed provision would have required large platforms such as Facebook or Twitter to remove materials deemed to be potentially damaging to viewers, regardless of whether it broke any existing laws.
The measures sparked a fierce debate over the protection of free speech and censorship. The government announced this morning that the legal but harmful policy would be replaced with a greater emphasis on social media firms publishing clear and consistent terms of service that police ‘harmful content’ on a case-by-case basis.
The changes have sparked some criticism from parties supporting the bill, accusing the government of watering down a law made to protect vulnerable people, including Ian Russell, the father of teenager Molly Russell who ended her life after she was exposed to self-harm-related content.
Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan denied accusations of weakening the bill. Speaking to the BBC, she said: “These are massive, massive corporations that have the money, the know-how and the tech to be able to adhere to this.”
Donelan added that firms not complying with the terms would still face “huge reputational damage”.
The controversial bill is aiming to crack down on harmful online content that includes everything from child sexual abuse materials, to terrorist posts and online scams.