More protections for social media news publishers added to online safety bill

Social media platforms will not be able to remove or hide articles published by well-known news publishers under a new amendment to the Online Safety Law introduced by the government.

He said the move would offer an additional layer of protection for online journalism.

Under the amendment, the largest platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, will be required to notify news publishers and offer them a right of appeal before removing or moderating their content or taking action against their accounts, and articles will remain viewable and accessible even if are under review.

The government said it believes this change will reduce the risk of platforms taking what it called arbitrary moderation decisions against content from news publishers, and also prevent any accidental removals.

In its announcement, the government highlighted an incident last year in which YouTube removed the official TalkRadio channel before reinstating it after a review.

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said: “Our democracy depends on people’s access to high-quality journalism and our world-leading internet safety law incorporates strict new guarantees for freedom of expression and online press.

“However, we have seen technology companies arbitrarily remove legitimate journalism with a complete lack of transparency and this could seriously affect public discourse. These additional protections will prevent that from happening.”

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said the bill would provide “strict new guarantees for freedom of expression and of the press online” (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

However, some activists have criticized the amendment, warning that it could allow foreign state-backed “propaganda outlets” to keep potentially harmful content online.

Nathan Sparkes, executive director of campaign group Hacked Off, also raised concerns about the broader bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

He said: “The government now plans to ban Twitter and Facebook from removing dangerous content posted by racists and propagandists who qualify as ‘news publishers’ from their platforms unless they are first given the right of appeal.

“This bill has become a farce, oscillating between a draconian regime that gives chilling powers to the Secretary of State while giving Russian propagandists, racists and misogynists a license to spread disinformation and hate with impunity.

“These amendments prove that this Government, in its final hours, will stop at nothing to cater to the interests of the national press, which will benefit from these provisions along with a host of dangerous and harmful websites.

“The public deserves better and will see through this last minute and desperate attempt to retain the support of the press before the possibility of a general election.”

Hacked Off was one of 16 campaign groups to send a letter to the Culture Secretary on Thursday warning that the online safety bill is “verging on being unworkable”.

He said the bill in its current form “focuses too much on trying to regulate what individual people can say online, instead of getting to the heart of the problem and addressing the systems and algorithms of the tech companies that promote and amplify harmful content”.

His letter added: “As a result, it risks being the worst of both worlds: failing to keep us safe while threatening free speech.”

It was signed by the chiefs of online safety and other campaign groups, including Hope Not Hate, Fair Vote UK and the 5Rights Foundation.

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