The Online Safety Bill is currently looking to dismantle an essential obligation that supports victims of online harm. The Bill is looking to remove the provision that online platforms provide ‘impartial dispute resolution processes’, which allows victims of online harm to seek independent recourse and appeal decisions towards legal but harmful online content.
The current provision required by the existing Video Sharing Platform Regulations requires (notified) platforms ‘to provide for an impartial out-of-court procedure for the resolution of any dispute between a person using the service and the provider to operate impartial dispute resolution in the event’
Report Harmful Content (A service operated by SWGfL) has been working to protect victims of online harm through this very process. The online platform encourages users to report harmful material online, whilst helping to define what is legal but harmful content. It was remarked in the Joint Select Committee report in December 2021 that “the Department look to Report Harmful Content as a potential model for what such an Ombudsman could look like.”
In the report comments it was noted: “service providers’ user complaints processes are often obscure, undemocratic, and without external safeguards to ensure that users are treated fairly and consistently”, concluding that “It is only through the introduction of an external redress mechanism that service providers can truly be held to account for their decisions as they impact individuals”
Report Harmful Content, which launched in 2019, has reported on the alarming impact legal but harmful content has had towards victims online. Data gathered from the 2021 annual report showed that:
- There was a 225% increase in ‘hate speech’ reported’
- One in three incidents involved bullying or harassment
- 90% of content that was escalated to industry through Report Harmful Content was successfully removed.
David Wright (CEO of SWGfL) said:
''In removing this essential obligation, the Online Safety Bill is drastically reducing its ability to protect users online. From what we have seen through the work of SWGfL, legal but harmful online content can be just as catastrophic as illegal content. Our work in victim support has given users a lifeline in removing harmful content from our online spaces.
We cannot allow an Online Safety Bill that does not put the support and protection of users first. This obligation should not be questioned; it is an essential and mandatory practice that will work towards a safer internet the Online Safety Bill originally set out to achieve. We urge the Government to consider these facts and highlight them throughout their ongoing discussions.''