by David Bean

A briefing from the Countryside Alliance in advance of Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Online Safety Bill on Wednesday 01 February.

  • Online bullying and harassment are issues of genuine concern that the Countryside Alliance has campaigned on for many years. We surveyed members and supporters as to their views of online bullying and harassment in late April 2022, following a previous exercise in 2018.
  • We welcome the Bill’s attempt to tackle online abuse, in particular through its introduction of the new offences of False Communications and Threatening Communications and through the steps it requires social media companies to take to prevent their platforms from being used to spread hatred.
  • We do, however, believe that the Bill could be improved in terms of its internal consistency and its likely effectiveness against all aspects of the online bullying problem.
  • The False Communications offence should be widened to include, first, financial harm and second, harm to the person or organisation (including a business) to whom, or to which, the information in it related, in order to address the issue of ideologically motivated false reviews of businesses and ‘false flag’ efforts to discredit organisations or individuals.
  • The interpretation of the communications offences should be broadened to include the incitement of others, perhaps using language introduced in Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 to define the inchoate offence of incitement.
  • Schedule 4 of the Bill, which defines OFCOM’s objectives in setting out Codes of Practice for Regulated User-to-User Services, should be expanded to require the regulator to consider the protection of individuals from communications offences committed by anonymous users.
  • Schedule 7 of the Bill should be expanded to include the new offences of False Communications and Threatening Communications, listed in part 10, as priority offences for social media platforms to guard users against.

To read the briefing in full, please click here.

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