The Online Harms white paper was introduced on Monday. The white paper will introduce strict laws for internet companies streaming child abuse, extremism, terrorist attacks and cyberbullying. The proposed laws have been welcomed by senior police and children’s charities.

The new laws will make it a statutory duty of care that social media firms appoint an independent regulator. The new laws will apply to any company that allows users to share or discover user-generated content or interact with each other online, including social media platforms, file-hosting sites, public discussion forums, messaging services and search engines. The firms will be liable for any harmful content on their sites.

The new law will outline what are classed as “harms” for which companies could be liable for. These include “failure to act to take down child abuse, terrorist acts and revenge pornography, as well as behaviours such as cyberbullying, spreading disinformation and encouraging self-harm.” The new law will make senior social media executives to be held personally liable if they are found to have failed to remove such content from their platforms.

Statistics have revealed that online child abuse has risen in the last 15 years from 110,000 in 2004 to 18.4 million last year.
Rob Jones, a National Crime Agency director, said:

“Industry does some great work but it has lots more to do and the technology already exists to design out a lot of preventable offending.

Industry must block abuse images upon detection and prevent online grooming; it must work with us to stop livestreaming of child abuse; it must be more open and share best practice. And abuse sites must no longer be supported by advertising.”

Javed Khan, the chief executive of Barnado’s, said:

”two-thirds of vulnerable children supported through the charity’s child exploitation services were groomed online before meeting their abuser in person. Children in the UK are facing growing risks online – from cyberbullying to sexual grooming to gaming addiction.”
“Barnardo’s has long called for new laws to protect children online, just as we do offline, so they can learn, play and communicate safely. The government’s announcement is a very important step in the right direction.”

The chief executive of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless said:

“For too long social networks have failed to prioritise children’s safety and left them exposed to grooming, abuse, and harmful content. So it’s high time they were forced to act through this legally binding duty to protect children, backed up with hefty punishments if they fail to do so.

“We are pleased that the government has listened to the NSPCC’s detailed proposals and we are grateful to all those who supported our campaign.”

The white paper has been influenced by the Australian Government passing tough legislation this month to tackle the streaming of violent images on social media following the Christchurch shootings in March. The Christchurch attacker used Facebook Live to stream the attack in progress, with thousands of people watching the attack as it occurred and millions more seeing the video as it was uploaded across the internet over the following day.

If you have been a victim of abuse and would like to speak to one of our specialist abuse lawyers in confidence, please do not hesitate to contact us. We can advise you on the available options for pursuing a civil damages claim. Jordans successfully represent and secure compensation for numerous victims of abuse and are experts in overcoming the particular challenges that arise in these sensitive cases. Our abuse team can be contacted free on 0800 9555 094 or you can request a call back and a member of our team will contact you.

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