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Online Safety Act


Miraculously, when the Online Safety Act was first produced as a Bill, it had not a single mention of women and girls. The reaction led to intense campaigning from well-known organisations including The End Violence Against Women Coalition, Refuge, NSPCC, and Glitch. The result? The Online Safety Act, passed in October 2023, has now been described as “landmark guidance” and a “historic moment for women’s rights,” aimed at helping protect women and girls from the disproportionate amount of online abuse they experience. Now, with an obvious relevance to GINA’s work, it begs the question: What will the Act do to protect individuals subjected to sexual abuse and violence?


Well, we've read the Online Safety Act so you don’t have too.


The Online Safety Act establishes several duties and obligations on online spaces such as social media sites and search engines. Providers like Facebook and Google will be prohibited from hosting illegal or harmful content in an attempt by the government to essentially make the internet safer. This will include sites having to prevent and remove illegal content, offer accessible reporting and complaints systems, enforce minimum age requirements, and prevent children from accessing age-inappropriate content.


Within this, there is illegal content deemed a ‘priority’ by the Act to be prevented and removed by online platforms, which include: child sexual abuse, coercive behaviour, extreme sexual violence, stalking, harassment, violence against women and girls, promoting or facilitating suicide, promoting self-harm, sharing or threatening to share an intimate photograph or film, revenge porn, cyberflashing, and sexual exploitation among some of the offences.


Regulation of the Act will be placed upon Ofcom, which is required to provide guidance to tech companies about protecting women and girls. Now in an implementation period,

Ofcom has begun work with the consultation process, and more information on their roadmap and results so far can be found here. Before producing any guidance, Ofcom must consult the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner in the process.


Once in place, Ofcom is empowered to investigate and penalise tech companies through large fines and other powers. They will further be able to bring criminal sanctions against senior managers for breaches in Ofcom’s requests.


In sum, it appears that the Online Safety Act proposes good measures to start protecting women and girls from sexual violence and abuse online. Yet, it will all depend on the implementation by Ofcom over the next few years.


-         Ben Sammon

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