A draft of the Government’s Online Safety Bill won’t protect freedom-of-expression because it may allow tech companies to use automated algorithms that can remove incorrect journalistic reporting, according to MPs.

According to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, this draft legislation missed an opportunity to address many online issues, including journalist abuse.

According to the Bill, the Bill doesn’t have enough ‘clearness nor strength’ to address certain illegal content. It would not prevent sharing the most dangerous images of violence against children and their victims.

Dawn Alford is the executive director of The Society of Editors. She represents UK media and said that the draft Bill was ‘insufficient’ to protect freedom of speech.

This group fears that this bill will create a duty to care for large US tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Twitter. It could lead them to introduce new algorithms that can remove harmful content.

MailOnline's official Facebook page @DailyMail has 21.4million followers and 16.6million likes

MailOnline’s official page on Facebook @DailyMail boasts 21.4 million followers and 16.6million Likes

MailOnline's official Twitter page @MailOnline has 2.6million followers and was created in July 2008

MailOnline’s official twitter page @MailOnline is followed by 2.6 million people.

If the Bill does not provide an exemption for trusted news sources, this could lead to companies accidentally removing journalistic content that is truly harmful.

Current rules would force tech firms to offer a fast-track way of putting media reports back online quickly if it is taken down by the algorithm – something that would be enforced by the communications regulator Ofcom.

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors

Dawn Alford is the executive director of The Society of Editors

There are concerns within the news media that the system may be poorly maintained, overwhelmed by an overwhelming number of appeals and have a chilling effect on freedom speech.

Ms. Alford stated that the Society welcomed the DCMS Select Committee’s acknowledgment of the fact in the report, “The draft Online Safety Bill at the moment is not sufficient to protect freedom and expression.” 

“The Society’s evidence has been presented to the Joint Committee which also reviewed the bill. A broad exemption must be provided for journalistic contents. Platforms should implement appropriate measures to prevent broad-based algorithms from resulting in the taking down of legitimate journalistic articles. 

“We ask the government for more attention to the appeals procedure to see if it functions in practice, and to recognize the speed of the news media today.

Report stated that the bill draft “doesn’t provide a clear legislative base upon which Ofcom may judge the efficacy (particularly algorithmic and automated) of measures, system and processes in managing or mitigating such content.”

Additionally, the committee stated that the Bill “lacks proportionality” in this area and may result in service providers taking down excessive content. This is especially true when service provider’s terms and conditions require that such content be removed in the first instance to comply with their duties to ensure consistent enforcement of their terms and avoid any associated penalties.

Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee chair Julian Knight (pictured last week) said the Online Safety Bill 'neither protects freedom of expression nor is it clear nor robust enough to tackle illegal and harmful online content'

Julian Knight, Chair of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said last week that the Online Safety Bill “neither protects freedom to express nor is clear or robust enough for illegal and dangerous online content.”

The House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee issued a report on the draft Online Safety Bill

A report was issued by the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill

A report called for the revision of the Bill to protect journalists from online abuse. It cited a National Union of Journalists poll that found only one third of respondents had reported any abuses to social-media firms. 

Technology executives could get jailed if they fail to tackle “online harms” 

If social media managers fail to work with regulators in order to safeguard the internet’s vulnerable users, they could face jail time under new legislation.

An earlier version of the Online Safety Bill, published last year, said tech firms could be fined huge amounts – potentially running into billions of pounds – if they failed to abide by a duty of care. 

However, ministers resisted the temptation to hold bosses accountable for any company failures.

However, the law now provides for senior managers to be prosecuted for failing to fulfill their duty of care. It’s believed Culture Secretary Nadine Dories will present the harsher law within the next few days amid increasing concern about companies like YouTube and Facebook failing to deal with harmful content.

Nick Clegg is the name of the legislation, because the former deputy prime Minister is now Vice President for Global Affairs and Communications at Facebook.

Concerned families and children’s charities have been calling for the prosecution of social media companies if they do not crackdown on self-harm.

Molly Russell was 14 years old when she took her own lives after viewing graphic self-harm photos on Instagram.

Defenders of freedom of speech worry that tech companies could censor legitimate content and thereby stifle public discussion on critical issues.

Tech bosses could be held criminally liable if they fail to follow the recommendations of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, which examined the Bill in order to increase the exemption for news publications.

It is an important shift in Government’s policy. Previously, they had refused calls for bosses to be criminally held responsible for the sites of their employees. According to a Whitehall insider, “It was the sword of Damocles hanging above them.” Now it is in force.

A study found that 4 out 5 journalists thought reporting abuse was no different.

According to the report, victims had ‘little access to service providers’ and women are 27 times more likely than men to harass them online.

It also stated that the Government must deal with certain content types which are legally legal. These include the activity called “breadcrumbing”, where child abusers edit pictures to avoid content moderation.

The Bill’s definitions of illegal content should be changed to address these concerns. MPs also suggested that more be done be to identify the risks associated with activities below the criminal threshold but still fall under the umbrella of online abuse.

Julian Knight, chair of the DCMS Committee stated that “In its current form” what should have been a landmark and world-leading legislation is instead a lost opportunity. Online Safety Bill doesn’t protect freedom of speech and it is not clear or strong enough to deal with illegal and dangerous online content.

“Urgency is necessary to make sure that the worst forms of child sexual abuse are not missed because the law’s online safety fails. We will continue to discuss these important matters in the public debate as we move through Parliament.

This is in response to a second report that MPs and their peers from the Joint Committee on The Draft Online Safety Bill published in December. It stated that online safety legislations needed to expand the scope of offences such as cyber flashing, self-harm content, paid scam and fraudulent advertisement, digital flashing, content promoting harm and deliberately sending flashing images to persons with photosensitive epilepsy.

While the government has suggested that’significant changes’ might be made to this draft Bill, Chris Philp from Culture told MPs at a Commons debate earlier in the month that there was a “number of areas” where the Online Safety Bill could be ‘improved substantially.

The next months will see a revision of the legislation.

DCMS spokeswoman said, “We don’t agree with the criticisms made by the committee.” It has been recognized as a worldwide gold standard in internet safety. The Bill contains strict provisions, including the duty to protect children from sexual abuse and grooming as well as illegal and harmful content.

“Tech firms and Ofcom have strict rules that ensure people’s privacy and freedom of speech. Content isn’t taken down without good reasons.” It will protect freedom of speech and make the UK one of the safer places to visit online.